Esper given horse in Mongolia as US looks for new inroads against China

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia — Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperEsper given horse in Mongolia as US looks for new inroads against China China ‘won’t stand idly by’ if US puts missiles in Asia-Pacific region Esper: US won’t ‘overreact’ to North Korean missile launches MORE on Thursday found himself in possession of a gift horse while visiting Mongolia.

Esper — who was in the country to meet with senior Mongolian officials while on his first international trip as Pentagon chief — named the horse Marshall, after the former Defense secretary, secretary of State and World War II Gen. George Marshall.

“He’s happy, he likes his name,” Esper said while standing beside the horse outside the Mongolian Ministry of Defense.

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Horses are often given to high-level officials who visit the landlocked country. It is wedged between China and Russia — the top two U.S threats named in the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy.

With an escalating trade war between the United States and China and last week’s cancelation of a Cold War-era arms pact between Washington and Moscow, the Trump administration appears eager to make further inroads with Mongolia due to its location.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites brother’s struggles with alcohol as driving force behind fight against opioids Booker: ‘Knowing the bloody, violent truth of our past empowers me’ Analyst says Trump’s Venezuela policy is driven by Florida politics MORE last month hosted the Mongolian president at the White House — the first time such a leader has visited since 2011 — and national security adviser John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonAnalyst says Trump’s Venezuela policy is driven by Florida politics Esper given horse in Mongolia as US looks for new inroads against China How the Trump administration can solve its Iran problem MORE was in the nation in early July.

Esper’s trip, meanwhile, was described to reporters as “an introductory visit” and “seeking alignment” on each country’s strategy.

“Mongolia, situated where it is, understands our perspective on Russia and China, uniquely so,” a senior defense official traveling with Esper said on Wednesday.

The Pentagon head reflected that thinking on Thursday.

“It is my deep privilege to be here, to be with you and have the opportunity to look at different ways we can further strengthen the ties between our two countries,” Esper said when sitting down to meet with his Mongolian counterpart in the nation’s capital.

Mongolia is already a partner nation to the United States, which it calls its “third neighbor,” and has aided the U.S. military in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. About 233 Mongolian troops are currently in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.

In addition, Ulaanbaatar provides Washington access to cold weather and peacekeeping training in the country.

Mongolia also hopes to invite U.S. investment to gain stronger economic independence from China. The nation is largely dependent on Beijing to move its main exports of cashmere and rare earth minerals out to the larger world.

“I would see the trajectory [in relationship] being consistently upwards since we reestablished relations and our first military to military agreement was signed in 1996,” the official said last week ahead of the trip.

“I do think, particularly given where we see the strategic landscape, that they are important and we’ll treat them as such.”

Esper told reporters traveling with him that, given the nation’s location, “given its interest in working more with us, their third neighbor policy — all those things is the reason why I want to go there and engage.”

The visit kicked off Wednesday evening as Esper touched down at Chinggis Khaan International Airport, where he and his wife, greeted with a line of Mongolian troops in ceremonial military dress, were offered the customary snack of dried horse milk curd.

He then met with Mongolia’s president and defense minister on Thursday.

The most anticipated moment of the trip came when Esper was presented with a 7-year-old, caramel-colored horse, and he revealed its name, complete with a monologue on the origins of the choice.

Marshall, who had served in China between 1924 and 1927 while an Army officer, came to Mongolia to procure horses for his infantry regiment, as the “best horses” were from the region, according to Esper.

As the story goes, a young lieutenant under Marshall’s command disciplined a stubborn horse by striking it. Marshall punished the lieutenant “because he had such high regard for Mongolian horses.”

“This Army officer was not only a great warrior but a great peacemaker. So I’d like to name this fine looking horse Marshall after Gen. George Marshall.”

Esper also noted that he and Marshall share the hometown of Uniontown, Pa., outside of Pittsburgh.

He then gave the horse’s handler and caretaker a saddle blanket that had the U.S. Army Old Guard emblem embroidered on it. The Guard uses the same blanket on its own horses, which traditionally carried presidents in ceremonies.

Marshall will not come with Esper back to the states and will instead stay in Mongolia, to be cared for by his herders. Esper was, however, given a framed photo of the horse.

Esper’s excursion marks the first time a U.S. Defense secretary has visited the country since Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelEsper given horse in Mongolia as US looks for new inroads against China Five questions for Trump’s new defense secretary on first major tour Trump names horse that was gift from Mongolia ‘Victory’ MORE stopped in in 2014 for only several hours while serving in the Obama administration. Hagel was also given a horse, which he named Shamrock after the mascot of his high school.

Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Pentagon chief under President George W. Bush, named his horse Montana, after the state his wife was originally from.

The horses are always left in Mongolia.

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