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US defense secretary Mark Esper asked South Korea to send troops to join a US-led maritime force in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran, Yonhap news agency said on Friday. Esper made the request during a meeting with defence minister Jeong Kyeong-doo in South Korea, it added.


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Jeong told Esper Seoul was considering various options, since South Korean people and vessels are also using the strait.

A South Korean defence ministry official did not have immediate comment.

Meanwhile, US defence secretary Mark Esper met with senior South Korean leaders on Friday amid a series of regional challenges ranging from a bitter trade row between Seoul and Tokyo to the cost of US troops stationed in South Korea.

Esper, on his first international trip since being confirmed as defence secretary, arrived in South Korea on Thursday evening against the backdrop of an escalating trade feud between two of Washington’s main Asian allies.

While the trade issue, which threatens regional intelligence sharing, came up in his meetings in Seoul, Esper reiterated the importance of the South Korean-US alliance and said the allies would continue to coordinate on North Korea.

In his opening remarks of the meeting with Esper, South Korean defence minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said Japan’s export restrictions against South Korea are ’causing adverse effects on South Korea-Japan relations and security cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan’.

South Korea has said it was exploring all options in its trade dispute with Japan, including scrapping an intelligence sharing pact.

Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump on Thursday said no one is authorised to speak to Iran on behalf of the United States, and he accused French President Emmanuel Macron of sending ’mixed signals’ to Tehran over possible talks.

’I know Emmanuel means well, as do all others, but nobody speaks for the United States but the United States itself,’ Trump said in a series of tweets.

It was not immediately clear what Trump was referring to and the White House declined to comment, but a report earlier this week said Macron had invited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to this month’s G7 summit to meet Trump. A French diplomat denied the report on Wednesday.

European leaders are seeking to defuse the brewing confrontation between Tehran and Washington after Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear last year and renewed sanctions in an effort to push a new deal under the US Republican president.

Tehran has responded with a series of moves, including seizing a British tanker in the Gulf and retreating from some of its commitments to limit its nuclear activity made under the deal.

The crisis is expected to be a focus at the G7 summit later this month. Trump and his administration officials have previously said Trump is open to talks with Iran and that the United States does not want war with Iran.

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