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US, South Korea seek to bolster military ties

May 21, 2022

US President Joe Biden and newly elected South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol recognized the "threat" posed by North Korea's nuclear program and urged denuclearization during a meeting in Seoul.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol greets U.S. President Joe Biden prior to a summit meeting at the Presidential Office in Seoul, South Korea May 21, 2022
South Korea is one of the top US allies in the Indo-PacificImage: Song Kyung-Seok/REUTERS

US President Joe Biden and newly elected South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk Yeol are studying means of expanding the scope and scale of joint military exercises on and around the Korean Peninsula.

Meeting during Biden's visit to Seoul on Saturday, as part of his first Asian tour as US president, the two leaders stressed their commitment to denuclearizing North Korea, saying it was in response to the "threat" posed by the autocratic country.

North Korea has upped its missile tests this year, carrying out some 16 separate tests, after 14 months of quiet during the beginning of Biden's administration.

US-South Korean joint exercises might further upset Pyongyang, which often describes them as invasion rehearsals.

President Joe Biden is welcomed for a bilateral meeting with South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl at the People's House in Seoul, South Korea
Biden arrived in Seoul on Friday, the first leg of his first Asia tour as US presidentImage: Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

South Korea is the first leg of Biden's Asia tour, which is also meant to take him to Japan.

He will unveil on Monday the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, a US initiative for regional trade. It's meant to set standards on labor, supply chains and the environment.

However, his tour is seen as a subliminal message of countering China, despite White House officials' attempts to play it down.

Strengthening coordination between allies

A US official speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity said Biden's tour was about "demonstrating unity and resolve and strengthening the coordination between our closest allies."

He added that Biden was also focused on setting up a "strong personal relationship" with Yoon, whose presidency only started less than two weeks ago.

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a bilateral meeting with South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl at the People's House in Seoul, South Korea
Biden reiterated the US readiness to defend South Korea with nuclear weaponsImage: Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

Ahead of the meeting, Seoul was worried that Washington might be moving back to its "strategic patience" policy toward North Korea, which was adopted by former President Barack Obama's administration and constituted ignoring the latter until it shows true intentions to denuclearize.

However, many believed the approach allowed the North to further advance its nuclear arsenal instead.

Biden stressed his country's commitment to defend South Korea with nuclear weapons if necessary, after Saturday's meeting. He also expressed readiness to meet the North Korean leader, but only if the latter showed sincere interest in serious talks.

rmt/wd (Reuters, AFP, AP)