(ATTN: UPDATES with presidential office's clarification on 'controversy,' gender equality issue)
By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris promised President Yoon Suk-yeol on Thursday that the United States will look for solutions to South Korea's concerns about the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) as the law is implemented, the presidential office said.
Harris conveyed the position after Yoon reiterated South Korea's concerns that the law will hurt Korean carmakers by giving tax credits only to electric vehicles assembled in North America, according to deputy presidential spokesperson Lee Jae-myoung.
"President Yoon delivered our concerns about the U.S. IRA, saying he hopes the two countries will closely cooperate to produce a mutually satisfying agreement in the spirit of the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement," Lee said during a press briefing.
"In response, Vice President Harris said not only she, but also President Biden, are well aware of South Korea's concerns and will look into it carefully in order to find ways to resolve South Korea's concerns in the process of the law's implementation," he said.
South Korea fears the law will act as a significant trade barrier for its automakers until Hyundai Motor begins production at its electric vehicle plant in Georgia in 2025.
Harris' remarks are in line with a commitment Biden made to Yoon during their meetings in London and New York last week.
Lee said Yoon and Harris met for 85 minutes at the presidential office and discussed a wide range of issues, including ways to strengthen the bilateral relationship, and key regional and international issues.
"President Yoon and Vice President Harris expressed serious concern about North Korea's recent ballistic missile launches and legalization of its nuclear force policy," he said, noting Harris reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea.
The two also assessed that the two countries are in close consultations to strengthen their combined defense posture, including through the U.S. extended deterrence commitment to South Korea, and agreed to immediately execute their joint response plans in the event North Korea carries out what would be its seventh nuclear test or other serious provocations, he said.
The two sides also agreed to plan a visit by Yoon to the U.S. next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the alliance.
On the controversy surrounding Yoon and Biden's meetings in New York last week, Harris said the U.S. is not bothered by it at all, according to Lee.
The spokesperson did not elaborate on which controversy Harris was referring to, but it apparently included the uproar in South Korea over Yoon's remarks caught on a hot mic, which were initially reported as including vulgar language in reference to U.S. Congress and Biden.
"(Harris said) President Biden has deep trust in President Yoon and is satisfied with his meetings with President Yoon in London and New York last week," Lee said.
The presidential office later clarified she was referring "comprehensively to various controversies that were reported in the domestic and foreign press."
Meanwhile, Harris reaffirmed that the U.S. will cooperate closely with South Korea to implement liquidity facilities for the stabilization of financial markets if needed.
A presidential official told reporters on background the subject is being actively discussed between the Bank of Korea and the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Yoon also highly assessed Harris' leadership in space development as chair of the U.S. National Space Council, saying he sees large potential for cooperation between their countries in space.
The vice president expressed her agreement and suggested the two sides actively look for ways to strengthen space cooperation.
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.
Her trip 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.
Harris used her one-day trip to visit the Demilitarized Zone on the inter-Korean border and also hold a roundtable with women leaders to discuss gender equality.
In a readout of the Yoon-Harris meeting, the White House said the vice president "underscored the priority that the Biden-Harris Administration places on gender equity and women's empowerment in the ROK and around the world."
ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea's official name.
Yoon has been accused of undermining women's rights after he pledged during the campaign to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
The presidential office made no mention of the subject in its briefing on the Yoon-Harris meeting.
It later sent a notice to reporters clarifying Yoon had asked Harris first about her scheduled roundtable with women leaders, saying he hoped it would "produce a useful outcome as South Korean women participate more actively in our society."
In response, Harris said the U.S. government has a deep interest in enhancing women's capabilities, according to the office.
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