Pence Heads to Seoul Despite North Korea’s Missile Launch Attempt

News of North Korea’s latest attempted missile launch did not derail U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s travel to the Korean Peninsula on Sunday.

U.S. officials aboard Air Force 2, the jet carrying Pence and his wife to Seoul, said the flight remained on schedule to arrive in the South Korean capital Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. local time, 0230 EDT, 0630 UTC).

The North Korean missile failure became known an hour after the Pence party left Anchorage, Alaska, following a refueling stop on the long flight from Washington to northeast Asia. Pence was quickly in contact with President Donald Trump in Florida, the vice president’s aides said.

Reporters aboard Air Force 2 were briefed on the situation as the jet crossed the Bering Sea.

Pence left Washington Saturday on a 10-day, four-nation trip that also includes stops in Japan, Indonesia, Australia and Hawaii. It was his first official trip to the Asia-Pacific rim, where he will hold talks on trade, economic and security issues, including North Korea’s provocative military actions.

Pence’s press secretary, Marc Lotter, told VOA earlier that the trip would reinforce the administration’s policy of placing “extreme value on our alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The vice president’s visit to South Korea began one day after North Korea’s national holiday celebrating the birth anniversary of the country’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994. In the days leading up to Pence’s departure, world attention had been focused on the possibility that the North Korean regime might conduct a long-rumored nuclear test explosion in conjunction with the “Day of the Sun” holiday.

Military parade

No nuclear activity occurred, but Kim Jong Un, grandson of the country’s founder, presided Saturday over a bellicose military parade through Pyongyang, showing off the military hardware that backs up his frequent threats against South Korea, his closest neighbor, Japan and the United States.

Prior to Sunday’s failed launch, North Korea’s most recent missile exercise sent a medium-range rocket plunging into the Sea of Japan less than two weeks ago. Trump has said the United States will act unilaterally, if necessary, against further acts of aggression by Pyongyang, but he also has urged China to take a more direct role in the Korean crisis, since Beijing is the North’s closest ally and can wield significant economic pressure on the Kim regime.

At the same time, Trump ordered a substantial naval armada to steam toward the Korean Peninsula, in what many people in the region saw as a gesture warning Pyongyang to lower the temperature of its political rhetoric and actions.

While in South Korea, Pence will meet with Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and local business leaders. He also will take part in an Easter Sunday religious service and have supper with American and South Korean troops.

On Tuesday, Pence is due to leave for Japan, where he will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other Japanese officials. They are expected to initiate economic negotiations that were first announced by Trump and Abe in February.

VOA’s Steve Herman and Brian Padden contributed to this report.

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