Vice President Kamala Harris looks through binoculars at military observation post in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea on Thursday, September 29, 2022. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris looks through binoculars at a military observation post in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas in Panmunjom, South Korea on September 29, 2022. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas on Thursday and slammed North Korea's "brutal dictatorship" and "destabilizing" weapons program just hours before Pyongyang launched its second round of ballistic missiles in a day.
North Korea fired off a pair of short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Thursday evening, shortly after Harris left Korea, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message to reporters.
Harris' visit to the DMZ was described by the White House as a "show of commitment" to defending South Korea. The vice president met with enlisted soldiers and used binoculars to view military installations and defenses along the heavily guarded border.
She was also briefed by military leaders inside the Panmunjom truce village that straddles the border between North and South Korea.
The North Korean side of the demarcation line appeared to have been long neglected, with tall weeds growing and no soldiers at guard positions facing the South. A handful of North Korean officials dressed in full hazmat suits appeared at the windows of a building inside the Joint Security Area, watching the activity surrounding Harris' arrival with binoculars.
After the tour, Harris praised South Korea as a "force for good in the world" and drew a sharp contrast with the North.
"In the North, we see a brutal dictatorship, rampant human rights violations and an unlawful weapons program that threatens peace and stability," Harris said. "The DPRK has a ballistic missile launch program ... and are destabilizing the peace and security of this region."
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
"The United States and the world seek a stable and peaceful Korean Peninsula where the DPRK is no longer a threat," Harris added.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday, hours ahead of Harris' arrival to South Korea from Japan, where she led a delegation to the funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Pyongyang has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year, and officials in Washington and Seoul say that the secretive regime is poised to conduct its seventh nuclear detonation at any time.
Earlier on Thursday, Harris met with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative who has ramped up military engagement with the United States in an effort to take a stronger stance against the North. In remarks ahead of the meeting, Yoon said Harris' visit would be "another turning point" in strengthening the alliance
The vice president's trip came as the United States and South Korea wrapped up four days of naval exercises involving the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, joint drills that North Korea earlier this week slammed as "an extremely dangerous act" that could lead to the "brink of war."
Harris also held a roundtable discussion with a group of prominent South Korean women on Thursday, including Academy Award-winning actress Youn Yuh-jung and Olympic gold medalist figure skater Kim Yuna.