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Sept. 29, 2022, 11:33 a.m. EDT

Kamala Harris called North Korean missile launches provocations that ‘destabilize the region’

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By Associated Press

PANMUNJOM, Korea (AP) — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris capped her four-day trip to Asia with a stop Thursday at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean Peninsula as she emphasized the “ironclad” U.S. commitment to the security of its Asian allies in the face of an increasingly hostile North Korea.

The visit comes on the heels of North Korea’s latest missile launches and amid concerns that the country may conduct a nuclear test. Visiting the DMZ has become something of a ritual for American leaders hoping to show their resolve to stand firm against aggression.

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday, while Harris was in Japan, and fired one before she left Washington on Sunday. The launches contribute to a record level of missile testing this year that is intended to move North Korea closer to being acknowledged as a full-fledged nuclear power.

At the DMZ, Harris went to the top of a ridge, near guard towers and security cameras. She looked through bulky binoculars as a South Korean officer pointed out military installations on the southern side. Then an American officer pointed out some of the defenses along the military demarcation line, including barbed-wire fences and claymore mines. He said American soldiers regularly walk patrols along a path.

“It’s so close,” Harris said.

Harris then visited one of a row of blue buildings that straddle the demarcation line, where an American officer explained how the buildings are still used to conduct negotiations with North Korea. Sometimes they pass messages back and forth and sometimes they use a megaphone, he said.

“That’s high tech,” Harris joked, before adding, “We’ve stepped into history.”

“It’s still going,” the colonel said.

Harris agreed. “The past and present are happening every day.”

She then walked out of the building and up to the demarcation line. On the North Korean side, two figures dressed in what appeared to be hazmat suits peeked out from behind a curtain in a second-floor window. Then they disappeared back inside.

Harris described the North Korean missile launches as provocations meant to “destabilize the region” and said the United States and South Korea remain committed to the “complete denuclearization” of the North.

“I cannot state enough that commitment of the United States to the defense of the Republic of Korea is ironclad,” she said.

“In the South, we see a thriving democracy. In the North, we see a brutal dictatorship,” she said before flying out of the border on a U.S. military helicopter.

Earlier, Harris met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at his office in Seoul and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend the South with a full range of its military capabilities in the event of war, Yoon’s office said.

They expressed concern over North Korea’s threats of nuclear conflict and pledged an unspecified stronger response to major North Korean provocations, including a nuclear test.

Harris and Yoon were also expected to discuss expanding economic and technology partnerships and repairing recently strained ties between South Korea and Japan to strengthen their trilateral cooperation with Washington in the region. Their meeting also touched on Taiwan, with both reaffirming their countries’ support for “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait, according to Yoon’s office, which didn’t elaborate.

Harris’ trip was organized so she could attend the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but her itinerary was dominated by security concerns, a reflection of fears about China’s growing power and North Korea’s ramped-up testing activity.

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