US VP in Seoul for talks on Pyongyang

Seoul: US Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday arrived on a three-day visit to South Korea to reaffirm the robust security alliance and warn against North Korea’s possible provocation, officials said.

After landing at a US airbase in Pyeongtaek, 70 km from here, Pence headed to a Seoul national cemetery in a gesture to highlight the alliance forged during the 1950-53 Korean War, Yonhap news agency reported.

This is Pence’s first trip to Asia after taking office in January. The visit came amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Pyongyang on Sunday made an unsuccessful attempt to launch a ballistic missile and 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 Kim Jong-un regime.

Pyongyang on Saturday displayed three intercontinental ballistic missiles during a military parade.

Pence will on Monday meet South Korea’s acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun.

The two sides will discuss bilateral cooperation in pressuring Pyongyang into changing track toward denuclearisation through sanctions and diplomacy, observers said.

Pence is also likely to explain to Hwang the Trump administration’s North Korea policy.

Other issues likely to be discussed include the ongoing installation of an advanced US missile defence system on the peninsula.

The two sides may reaffirm the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system and call on Beijing to stop its economic retaliation against South Korea, observers said.

Hwang and Pence will release a joint statement after talks to warn North Korea against provocations and highlight the unwavering alliance.

Pence will on Tuesday deliver a speech at a meeting hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea.

In recent months, a series of top US 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.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Seoul in February and March respectively to highlight that the US commitment to the defence of South Korea will remain “ironclad”.

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