Kamala Harris in South Korea in the aftermath of missile fire from the North

Kamala Harris in South Korea in the aftermath of missile fire from the North


SEOUL | US Vice President Kamala Harris visited South Korea's heavily fortified border with the North on Thursday on a trip aimed at bolstering the security alliance with Seoul. 

< p>North Korea fired two ballistic missiles in the days leading up to its arrival, continuing a record slew of weapons tests since the start of the year.

From an observation post atop a steep hill overlooking North Korea, Ms Harris observed the border through binoculars as American and South Korean soldiers pointed out the features of the area, including its defenses.

The United States' commitment to the defense of South Korea is “unwavering,” she said, assuring that Washington and Seoul were “aligned” in their response to the growing threat posed by the North's weapons programs.

While they both want “a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”, she continued, the two allied countries are, in the meantime, “ready to face any eventuality”.

The Vice President also visited the truce village of Panmunjom, where then US President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2019, and spoke with US soldiers at Camp Bonifas, a United Nations military post.

His visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas could serve as a pretext for further verbal escalation from Pyongyang.

Speaking aboard a US destroyer at a base before leaving Japan, Ms. Harris accused Mr. Kim's regime of threatening regional stability with new missile strikes, and denounced its “illicit weapons program”.

The vice – the American president had previously traveled to Japan to attend the state funeral of the slain former prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

In Seoul, she met South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, for talks dominated by security issues, with South Korean and US officials warning for months that Pyongyang is preparing to carry out a new nuclear test.

On Wednesday, the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) estimated that this test could take place in October.

According to the NIS, Kim Jong-un will likely choose the period between the next Chinese Communist Party congress on October 16 and the midterm elections in the United States on November 7.

During During the meeting, Seoul also raised concerns over a new law signed by US President Joe Biden that removes subsidies for electric cars built outside the US, affecting South Korean automakers like Hyundai. and Kia.

Ms Harris, the first female vice-president of the United States, also met with what the White House called “innovative women leaders” from South Korea to discuss issues related to gender equality, a subject she said he spoke with Mr. Yoon.

Mr. Yoon, who has pledged to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality, has been criticized in his country for the lack of women in his government.

Nuclear test?

North Korea, which is the subject of multiple UN sanctions for its weapons programs, generally seeks to maximize the geopolitical impact of its tests by choosing the moment that seems most opportune.

The communist country has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006. Its last, most powerful test, carried out in 2017 – which Pyongyang said was a hydrogen bomb – had a power estimated at 250 kilotons.

Under President Yoon, Seoul and Washington have intensified their joint military exercises, which they insist are purely defensive in nature. For its part, North Korea systematically denounces them as a repetition of an invasion.

The two allies are organizing a large-scale joint naval exercise this week considered a show of force in the face of growing provocations from the North

Cheong Seong-chang, director of the center for North Korean studies at the Sejong Institute, told AFP he expects Mr. Yoon and Ms. Harris to discuss the plan for responding to a Pyongyang's new nuclear test.

Ms. Harris's trip represents “an opportunity to strengthen the high-level relations of cooperation and friendship between South Korea and the United States”, it said. – he noted.

Seoul on Thursday announced trilateral anti-submarine drills with Tokyo and Washington, the first such exercises since 2017, after officials said this weekend. end to have detected signs that Pyongyang could prepare a ballistic missile test launch launched from a submarine .