U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris condemned North Korea’s “brutal dictatorship” and “destabilizing” weapons program during a Thursday visit to the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
Harris’s DMZ stop came less than a day after North Korea fired two short-range missiles, adding to what has already been a record number of North Korean launches this year.
At the Panmunjom Truce Village that straddles North and South Korea, Harris condemned the missile tests, saying they are “clearly a provocation.”
“In the North, we see a brutal dictatorship, rampant human rights violations and an unlawful weapons program that threatens peace and stability,” she said.
Harris earlier Thursday met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative who has pushed to improve ties with the United States.
“Our shared goal, the United States and the Republic of Korea, is a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Harris said, using South Korea’s official name.
Harris’ visit is meant to reiterate the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. About 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950s Korean War, which ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.
At the DMZ, Harris greeted U.S. service members, listened to a briefing by senior military officials, and peered into the North using large black binoculars — a staple of many DMZ visits by U.S. presidents and vice presidents.
The Panmunjom Truce Village, where the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953, appeared mostly abandoned on the North Korean side, with tall weeds piercing through the concrete sidewalks and steps. The lone activity was three North Korean officials — dressed in a white, full-body hazmat suit — who occasionally peered through a window.
Harris’ DMZ visit was the final stop on a four-day visit to Asia. On Tuesday, Harris led the U.S. delegation at the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In Tokyo, Harris also touted the U.S. alliance relationship with Japan, where the U.S. has about 50,000 troops.
During the trip, U.S. officials repeatedly focused on the U.S. desire to have Japan and South Korea work more closely on common threats such as North Korea.
Seoul-Tokyo ties are regularly strained by disputes related to Japan’s occupation of Korea before World War II.
As Harris landed in Seoul, there were signs of greater cooperation among the three countries. South Korea’s military announced it would soon hold trilateral anti-submarine exercises with Japan and the United States. The exercises, Seoul said, would help counter the North Korean threat.
North Korea has launched 34 ballistic missiles this year, a record number. U.S. and South Korean officials also say the North has completed preparations to conduct its seventh nuclear test.