U.S. Vice President Joe Biden declared Friday that America's pledge to expand its Asian footprint shouldn't be doubted as he met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Paying a visit to a peninsula perpetually on edge, Biden said that the U.S. would continue to place its bet on South Korea, where nearly 30,000 American troops remain six decades after the end of the Korean War. He said the U.S. and South Korea had much to plan for their joint journey for the next 60 years as he neared the end of a weeklong Asia tour aimed at reinforcing the U.S. resolve to be a Pacific power.
"I want to make one thing absolutely clear: President Obama's decision to rebalance to the Pacific Basin is not in question," Biden said. "The United States never says anything it does not do." He repeated his last line to drive the point home.
Welcoming Biden at her office amid the sprawling gardens of Seoul's Blue House, Park alluded to the array of frictions in the region, where South Korea and Japan are feuding over historical enmities, China is asserting itself more forcefully with its neighbors and concerns about North Korea are never far from the forefront.
"At a time when we have recently been seeing growing volatility and tensions in northeast Asia, it is very helpful for peace in northeast Asia to have a vice president with such profound insight into foreign affairs travel to this region," she said through a translator.
After lunching with the South Korean leader, Biden was to deliver a speech Friday about America's Asia policy and the U.S.-Korea relationship. Before returning to Washington on Saturday, Biden will lay a wreath at a ceremony honoring fallen U.S. troops and visit the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea.
Concerns about North Korea's nuclear program were a major topic earlier in the week when Biden met for more than five hours with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. The two leaders strategized about how to increase pressure on the North in hopes of persuading the South Korean foe to give up its nuclear weapons, senior Obama administration officials said. These officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to comment by name.
Adding to tensions on the peninsula are U.S. concerns about an 85-year-old American tourist that Pyongyang has been detaining for more than a month. Meanwhile, South Korea's spy agency believes that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's powerful uncle may have been dismissed from his posts last month, and two of his aides publicly executed. It has not been possible to independently confirm that claim.
Reach Josh Lederman at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP