US Vice President Kamala Harris has arrived in Seoul for a trip intended to underscore the United States’ commitment to South Korea as Pyongyang continued an unprecedented series of weapons tests with the launch of two ballistic missiles.
Shortly after landing from Japan on Thursday morning, Harris met South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in his office in Seoul and praised the alliance between the countries as a “pivot of security and prosperity.”
Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, called her visit “another turning point” in strengthening ties.
Later in the day, Harris will visit the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ), which has existed since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.
“It’s almost on the ‘to-do’ list of every vice president or president who visits this part of the world to visit the DMZ,” said Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, who lives in South Korea’s Paju, is near the border.
US President Joe Biden visited the area when he was vice president in 2013, while former President Donald Trump went there in 2019, making headlines by shaking hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and entering North Korea. steps.
Those were “intoxicating days,” McBride said, and a lot has changed since then.
“It’s an indication of how far the relationship has deteriorated, that when Harris visits the DMZ, she’ll likely go on a much more standard visit, probably with several service reps, [and] look north,” he said.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday while Harris was in Japan, and had fired one before leaving Washington, DC, on Sunday. Many analysts say it is preparing to launch its first nuclear weapon in five years.
Harris and Yoon were expected to discuss the North Korean threat and US commitments to defend South Korea. They were also expected to talk about expanding economic and technological partnerships and restoring recently tense ties between Seoul and Tokyo.
While in Tokyo, attending the state funeral of assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Harris condemned North Korea’s “illegal weapons program.”
In Washington, DC, White House press officer Karine Jean-Pierre said the latest missile tests would not deter Harris from the DMZ and that she wanted to demonstrate the US’s “firm commitment” to regional security.
“As you know, North Korea has a history of doing these kinds of tests,” said Jean-Pierre, calling it “not uncommon.”
Yoon campaigned for the election on promises to deepen Seoul’s economic and security partnership with Washington to better address North Korea’s challenges and address potential supply chain risks posed by the pandemic, the US-China rivalry and the Russian war against Ukraine.
A row between the two allies over electric vehicles has sparked tensions, but safety concerns are likely to dominate Harris’ one-day visit.
South Korea and the US will resume this year large-scale combined military exercises that had been scaled down or suspended during the Trump administration to bolster its ultimately useless nuclear diplomacy with Kim.
Earlier this week, forces from the two countries conducted a military exercise in waters off South Korea’s eastern coast with the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which is in South Korea for the first time in five years.
And on Friday, South Korea’s navy will conduct trilateral anti-submarine exercises with US and Japanese forces designed to improve their ability to counter evolving North Korean threats, including submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The exercises will bring together warships including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, the USS Chancellorsville guided missile cruiser, the USS Barry guided missile destroyer, the South Korean Munmu the Great destroyer and the Japanese Asahi tanker.