Kamala Harris hits out at North Korea’s ‘provocative nuclear rhetoric’ on DMZ visit

Pyongyang fired ballistic missiles into the sea just hours before US vice-president arrived in Seoul

The US vice-president, Kamala Harris, has condemned North Korea’s “provocative nuclear rhetoric” during a trip to South Korea that included a visit to the heavily armed border dividing the peninsula.

Harris arrived in Seoul on Thursday, hours after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, in a move that underlines Washington’s struggle to rein in the regime’s weapons programme.

Her visit to the demilitarised zone (DMZ) – which has divided the peninsula since the 1950-1953 Korean war ended in an uneasy truce – was intended to demonstrate the US’s commitment to South Korea, a key ally in the region.

Harris looked through binoculars as a South Korean colonel pointed out military installations on the southern side. An American colonel then pointed out some of the defences along the military demarcation line, which marks the boundary between the two Koreas, including barbed wire fences and mines.

“It’s so close,” Harris said.

Earlier, she told US military personnel at a nearby base “how grateful and thankful we are” for their role in protecting the southern side of the tense border between the two Koreas.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has overseen a record number of missile launches this year, including one that involved a long-range weapon. Officials in Seoul and Washington have warned that Pyongyang could be preparing to carry out a nuclear test.

In a meeting in Seoul with the South Korean president, Yoon Suk-yeol, Harris praised the alliance between the two countries as a “linchpin of security and prosperity. I’m here to reinforce the strength of our alliance and strengthen our work together”.

Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, called her visit “another turning point” in strengthening bilateral ties.

They reaffirmed their commitment to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and “condemned [North Korea’s] provocative nuclear rhetoric and ballistic missile launches, in violation of UN security council resolutions”, the White House said in a statement. “They discussed our response to potential future provocations, including through trilateral cooperation with Japan.”

The DMZ has become a regular stop for visiting US officials eager to demonstrate their resolve on North Korean weapons’ development and their commitment to the security of South Korea, where 28,5000 US troops are based.

The 155-mile (250km) long border is highly fortified with razor wire, heavy armaments and tank traps on either side of a 2.5-mile wide buffer.

Ronald Reagan was the first US president to visit the DMZ, but Bill Clinton – who described it as “the scariest place on Earth” during a 1993 visit – and Donald Trump are the only sitting presidents to have visited the Joint Security Area, a cluster of buildings that hosts inter-Korean talks, and the only place where troops from both sides directly face each other.

Harris’s visit comes at a time of rising tensions on the peninsula. This week, the US and South Korea launched large-scale naval exercises for the first time in five years. The allies insist that their joint drills are purely defensive, but North Korea routinely condemns them as rehearsals for an invasion.

Earlier this week, Harris condemned Pyongyang’s “illicit weapons programme” during a speech at a naval base in Japan, where she also attended the state funeral of the country’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Speculation is building that North Korea is preparing to detonate a nuclear device in what would be its seventh nuclear test since 2006. Pyongyang claimed that its most recent test, in 2017, involved its most powerful weapon to date.

This week, the South Korean spy agency said North Korea appeared to have completed a third tunnel at its Punggye-ri nuclear site as part of preparations for a test, according to a South Korean MP who attended a closed-door briefing by the National Intelligence Service.

The lawmaker said Pyongyang was likely to conduct the test after the end of the Chinese Communist party congress, which begins on 16 October, and before US midterm elections on 8 November.

Kim Jong-dae, of the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies, said the latest missile launches were an attempt by the regime “to gain an upper hand on the peninsula with a nuclear arsenal at its disposal”.

That and other launches were “a harbinger of Pyongyang’s aggressive posturing to come next month – with missile launches and a possible nuclear test”, Kim added.


Justin McCurry in Tokyo and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
North Korea wants total denuclearisation, says Seoul
South Korean president says Pyongyang has not attached conditions such as US troop withdrawal

David Smith in Washington and agencies

19, Apr, 2018 @5:52 PM

Article image
World leaders condemn North Korea over missile launches
Call made for emergency UN security council meeting after action shocks international community and angers Japan and South Korea

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

06, Mar, 2017 @9:13 PM

Article image
How the nuclear-armed nations brought the North Korea crisis on themselves
Failure to honour terms of the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty has helped create ground for Kim Jong-un’s recklessness

Simon Tisdall

05, Sep, 2017 @4:00 AM

Article image
North Korea summit: uninvited guests could foil Trump's objectives | Simon Tisdall
The US president wants instant results but rival countries hope to make strategic gains too

Simon Tisdall

31, May, 2018 @4:00 AM

Article image
New South Korea leader Moon Jae-in willing to meet Kim in North
Former human rights lawyer vows to move quickly to solve national security crisis and bring lasting peace to peninsula

Justin McCurry in Kyoto and agencies

10, May, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
North Korea ramps up security ahead of national congress
The pariah state’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, is expected to cement his grip on power at ruling party’s first convention for 36 years

Simon Tisdall

03, May, 2016 @9:14 AM

Article image
North Korea’s nuclear test: your questions answered
Where was the explosion? Was it an H-bomb? And just how dangerous is Kim Jong-un? We tackle your most pressing queries

Maeve Shearlaw

07, Jan, 2016 @9:50 AM

Article image
‘Pushing the nuclear envelope’: North Korea’s missile diplomacy
Analysis: Fear and uncertainty of the Obama years could return as Kim Jong-un revives nuclear ambitions

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

22, Sep, 2021 @11:57 AM

Article image
Seeing nuclear weapons from North Korea’s perspective | Letters
Letters: Successive British governments have for decades been afflicted with exactly the same delusion as Kim Jong-un


04, Sep, 2017 @6:19 PM

Article image
Kim Jong-un signals North Korea could resume nuclear missile tests
Trump says he trusts leader to refrain from testing, despite Kim’s criticism of Washington’s ‘gangster-like demands’

Justin McCurry in Tokyo and agencies

01, Jan, 2020 @3:02 AM