(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with meeting taking place, remarks by Yoon, Harris; CHANGES headline; ADDS photo)
By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- President Yoon Suk-yeol met with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in Seoul on Thursday amid an escalation of North Korea's missile testing and concern about economic repercussions from the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Harris, who traveled to South Korea from Japan, was making her first visit to the country as vice president. The last time a U.S. vice president visited South Korea was in February 2018, when Mike Pence led a delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.
Harris' visit came a day after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea in apparent protest of an ongoing South Korea-U.S. military exercise involving an American aircraft carrier.
The North had also conducted a similar short-range ballistic missile test Sunday.
"The South Korea-U.S. alliance is evolving beyond the Korean Peninsula to a global alliance and expanding from a military alliance to an economic and technological alliance," Yoon said at the start of their meeting at the presidential office in Seoul.
He noted that he met with U.S. President Joe Biden several times last week, both in London and in New York, and "shared an understanding of the direction our alliance should move in."
"I plan to continue to develop the South Korea-U.S. alliance as a reliable pillar of support for defending our people's freedom, safety and prosperity," Yoon said, adding he hopes the vice president's visit will serve as another turning point to that end.
Harris touted the alliance as a "linchpin of security and prosperity" on the Korean Peninsula, in the region and throughout the globe.
"I am here to reinforce the strength of our alliance and strengthen our work together," she said.
During her one-day trip, Harris will underscore the U.S. commitment to the defense of its ally, a senior Biden administration official told reporters earlier.
"The key messaging that she's talking about on this trip is how our defense commitments are ironclad," the official said of the visit, which will include a stop in the Demilitarized Zone straddling the inter-Korean border.
The trip to the DMZ is expected to serve as a powerful signal of the U.S. commitment to its ally amid intelligence assessments that North Korea is readying to conduct what would be its seventh nuclear test.
The Yoon-Harris meeting is expected to serve as an opportunity for the president to further press Washington over the IRA, which South Korea fears will hurt its carmakers by excluding them from tax incentives provided only to electric vehicles assembled inside North America.
Yoon asked Biden to resolve the concerns during their meetings in London and New York last week.
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo also discussed the subject with Harris during their meeting in Tokyo this week before both attended the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Both Biden and Harris acknowledged the concerns and promised continued consultations between the allies over the matter.
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