US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Demilitarized Zone that divides North and South Korea on Thursday, the last leg of her four-day trip to Asia.
Harris condemned North Korea’s Kim Jong Un as he stood in the heavily reinforced region, a day after Pyongyang fired two ballistic missiles into the waters off its east coast.
“It is clearly a provocation, and we believe it is intended to destabilize the region and we are taking it seriously, and everyone should,” she told reporters traveling with her.
Although Harris arrived in Asia this week on a trip designed to attend former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral in Tokyo, he also met with government leaders from Japan, South Korea and Australia amid mounting tension over the assault. of China in the South China Sea and North Korea’s ballistic missile program. Harris’s trip was intended in part to reassure Asian allies of the United States’ intention to honor its security commitments in the Indo-Pacific region.
Harris on Thursday became the highest-ranking official in the Biden administration to come within feet of the North Korean border. During his tour, Harris went to Ouellette Lookout, where he used binoculars to observe the Hermit Kingdom. Footage from reporters traveling with Harris showed that as he approached a tower with a small fin on top, some workers inside a building on the North Korean side stared back at him.
“I had no doubt that would happen,” Harris said, when told that a US service member informed her that North Korean guards might be staring at her.
While in the DMZ, the Vice President also met with US service members and their families at the Camp Bonifas Dining Hall and thanked them for their service.
“These lives are forever benefited because of your hard work and your dedication,” Harris told the troops.
And he concluded his visit to the DMZ with a tour of T2 Conference Row, where he received an operational briefing. But after his tour, Harris got it wrong briefly when he referred to the “US alliance with the Republic of North Korea.” An official transcript from the vice president’s office released hours later corrected his remarks to “the Republic of Korea,” removing “North” from the record.
Still, Harris said, “The United States and the world seek a stable and peaceful Korean peninsula where the DPRK is no longer a threat.”
Before venturing out to the DMZ on Thursday, the vice president met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, with whom she discussed the threat posed by North Korea, the “importance of peace” in the Taiwan Strait, the cooperation in economy and technology, and other regional issues. problems, according to the White House.
“The vice president and president reaffirmed our alignment with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and our goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” said a readout of the White House meeting released later.
During the meeting, Harris called the US-South Korea alliance a “linchpin” of regional and global security. He also reaffirmed the “goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” and condemned North Korea’s “provocative nuclear rhetoric” and ballistic missile launches, according to a White House readout.
While in Seoul, Harris also met with a group of leading women in the industry before heading to the DMZ, often described as one of the most heavily armed borders in the world.
The DMZ has long been a destination for US presidents and vice presidents on official visits to South Korea, where they have been photographed looking through binoculars at North Korean-controlled territory.
Joe Biden visited the DMZ as vice president, but hasn’t been since he became president. Donald Trump was the last president to visit the region. In 2019, Trump shook hands with Kim Jong Un and took 20 steps toward North Korea, making history as the first sitting American leader to set foot in the country.
Harris’ visit comes a day after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the Sunan area of Pyongyang, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The missiles had a flight range of about 360 kilometers (224 miles), an altitude of 30 kilometers (19 miles) and a speed of about Mach 6, six times the speed of sound, the JCS said.
“The military has strengthened its surveillance and vigilance and maintains a fully prepared posture while closely cooperating with the United States,” he said.
This is North Korea’s 20th missile launch this year, according to CNN’s tally, and follows another launch on September 25, shortly before Harris arrived in the region.
After Harris left South Korea to return to Washington on Thursday, the South Korean military detected two more short-range ballistic missiles launched from North Korea’s Sunchon area in South Pyongan province on Thursday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement. .
Speaking aboard the USS Howard at Japan’s Yokosuka Naval Base on Wednesday, Harris criticized North Korea’s recent missile launches as “part of its illicit weapons program that threatens regional stability and violates multiple Security Council resolutions.” from the ONU”.
At a news conference Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to say whether the launch could have been timed to coincide with Harris’s visit, saying the tests are “not unusual.” for North Korea.
The United States and South Korea have also been holding joint naval exercises with the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan since Monday.