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(4th LD) U.S. Vice President Pence arrives in Seoul

All News 21:44 April 16, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with comments from U.S. Embassy in Seoul in paras 3, 7)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrived in South Korea on Sunday for a high-stakes three-day visit to reaffirm the robust security alliance and warn against North Korea's possible provocations, Seoul officials said.

Right after touching down at a U.S. air base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, Pence visited South Korea's national cemetery in Seoul, a symbolic gesture to highlight the alliance forged during the 1950-53 Korean War.

"Pence laid a wreath for veterans at Seoul National Cemetery and honored those who sacrificed their lives for our two countries," the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said in a tweet.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (2nd from R) and his wife Karen Pence pay respects to fallen troops at South Korea's national cemetery in Seoul on April 16, 2017. (Yonhap)

The visit to South Korea, his first Asian trip since his inauguration in January, came amid rising tensions here. Pyongyang has been seen preparing for another nuclear test while Washington has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to waters off the Korean Peninsula in a show of force against the wayward regime.

Before his arrival, the communist state further ramped up its saber-rattling by displaying three intercontinental ballistic missiles during a military parade Saturday and launching a missile early Sunday, which ended in failure.

After his visit to the cemetery, Pence met with U.S. troops in Seoul to celebrate Easter Day.

"Pence enjoyed an Easter service and fellowship meal with his family, U.S.-ROK servicemen, and their family members," the embassy said in a tweet. ROK is the acronym for South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.

On Monday, the vice president, the highest-ranking official of the Trump administration to visit Seoul, was scheduled to meet South Korea's Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun.

During his meeting with Hwang, the two sides are expected to discuss bilateral cooperation in pressuring Pyongyang into changing tack toward denuclearization through sanctions and diplomacy, observers said.

Pence is also likely to explain to Hwang the Trump administration's North Korea policy. The Associated Press has reported, citing unidentified U.S. officials, that Washington would focus on "maximum pressure and engagement" to induce the North to denuclearize.

The U.S. has indicated it could take a more aggressive approach to the North, as it has recently flexed its military muscle in Syria and Afghanistan. On April 7, the U.S. struck a Syrian air base to punish the Bashar al-Assad regime for a suspected chemical attack. Less than a week later, it dropped a massive bomb on an Islamic State complex in Afghanistan.

During their talks, Hwang and Pence are also expected to discuss the ongoing installation of a U.S. missile defense system on the peninsula. They may reaffirm the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system and call on Beijing to stop its economic retaliation against South Korea, observers said.

After their meeting, the two will release a statement, which is expected to warn the North against provocations and highlight the unwavering alliance.

Pence's schedule here includes a visit to the Demilitarized Zone bisecting the peninsula and a speech at a meeting with the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea.

In recent months, a series of top U.S. officials have visited South Korea amid concerns that security cooperation between the allies could slacken in the wake of the March 10 ouster of former President Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Seoul in February and March, respectively, to highlight that Washington's commitment to the defense of South Korea will remain "ironclad."

Pence will depart for Japan on Tuesday. His trip will also take him to Indonesia and Australia.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence wave after landing at a U.S. air base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, on April 16, 2017. (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr
(END)

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