US Vice President Kamala Harris condemned North Korea’s “provocative nuclear rhetoric” during a trip to South Korea that included a heavily armed border visit dividing the peninsula.
Harris arrived in Seoul on Thursday, hours after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, in a move that underscores Washington’s struggle to curb the regime’s weapons program.
His visit to demilitarized zone (DMZ) – which has divided the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an uneasy truce – was intended to demonstrate US commitment to South Korea, a key ally in the region.
Harris watched through binoculars as a South Korean colonel pointed to military installations on the south side. A US colonel then pointed out some of the defenses along the Military Demarcation Line, which marks the border between the two Koreas, including barbed wire fences and mines.
“It’s so close,” Harris said.
She previously told US military personnel at a nearby base “how grateful we are” for their role in protecting the southern side of the tense border between the two Koreas.
leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, has overseen a record number of missile launches this year, including one involving a long-range weapon. Officials in Seoul and Washington have warned that Pyongyang may be preparing to carry out a nuclear test.
During a meeting in Seoul with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, Harris hailed the alliance between the two countries as a “keystone of security and prosperity”. I am here to strengthen the strength of our alliance and strengthen our collaboration”.
Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, called her visit “a new turning point” in strengthening bilateral relations.
They reaffirmed their commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and “condemned [North Korea’s] provocative nuclear rhetoric and ballistic missile launches, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” the White House said in a statement. “They discussed our response to potential future provocations, including through trilateral cooperation with Japan.”
The DMZ has become a regular stop for visiting US officials eager to demonstrate their resolve on North Korean weapons development and their commitment to the security of South Korea, where 28,5000 US troops are based.
The 155 mile (250 km) long border is heavily fortified with barbed wire, heavy weaponry and tank traps on either side of a 2.5 mile wide buffer zone.
Ronald Reagan was the first US president to visit the DMZ, but Bill Clinton – who described it as ‘the scariest place on Earth’ during a 1993 visit – and Donald Trump are the only sitting presidents to have visited the Joint Security Area, a cluster of buildings that hosts the inter-Korean talks, and the only place where troops from both sides face each other directly.
Harris’ visit comes at a time of rising tensions on the peninsula. This week, the United States and South Korea launched large-scale naval exercises for the first time in five years. The allies insist their joint drills are purely defensive, but North Korea routinely condemns them as rehearsals for an invasion.
Earlier this week, Harris condemned Pyongyang’s “illicit weapons programme” during a speech at a naval base in Japan, where she also attended the state funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Speculation is building North Korea is preparing to detonate a nuclear device in what would be its seventh nuclear test since 2006. Pyongyang said its most recent test, in 2017, involved its most powerful weapon yet.
This week, the South Korean spy agency said North Korea appears to have completed a third tunnel at its Punggye-ri nuclear site as part of preparations for a test, according to a South Korean lawmaker who attended a closed National Intelligence briefing. Service.
The lawmaker said Pyongyang was likely to conduct the test after the end of China’s Communist Party Congress, which begins Oct. 16, and before the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 8.
Kim Jong-dae of the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies said the latest missile launches were an attempt by the regime “to take over the peninsula with a nuclear arsenal at its disposal”.
That launch and others were “a harbinger of Pyongyang’s aggressive posture to come next month – with missile launches and a possible nuclear test”, Kim added.