US Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the Demilitarized Zone that divides North and South Korea on Thursday – one day after Pyongyang fired two ballistic missiles into the waters off its east coast.
Harris arrived in Asia this week to attend the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, where she also met with South Korean and Australian government leaders.
On Thursday, she met South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, with whom she was expected to discuss the threat posed by North Korea, the “importance of peace” in the Taiwan Strait, cooperation on economics and technology, and other regional issues, according to the White House.
During the meeting, Harris called the US-South Korea alliance a “linchpin” of regional and global security. She 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 a group of female industry leaders before she was due to head to the DMZ – often described as one of the world’s most heavily armed borders.
The DMZ has long been a destination for US presidents and vice presidents on official visits to South Korea, where they have been photographed peering through binoculars into North Korean-controlled territory.
At the DMZ, Harris will meet service members, as well as receive a briefing from US commanders.
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 distance 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, said the JCS.
“The military has strengthened its surveillance and vigilance and it is maintaining a fully prepared posture while closely cooperating with the US,” it said.
This is North Korea’s 20th missile launch this year, according to CNN’s count, and follows another launch on September 25 – shortly before Harris arrived in the region.
Speaking aboard the USS Howard at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan on Wednesday, Harris criticized North Korea’s recent missile launches as “part of its illicit weapons program which threatens regional stability and violates multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”
At a news briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to say whether the launch could have been timed to coincide with Harris’ visit, saying the tests are “not unusual” for North Korea.
The US and South Korea have also been conducting joint naval exercises featuring the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier since Monday.