U.S. diplomat Blinken pays visit to Seoul

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U.S. diplomat Blinken pays visit to Seoul


U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, left, and U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert, right, on Sunday at a restaurant serving samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup). [From Lippert’s Twitter account]

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken made his first overseas trip to Seoul, where he discussed the denuclearization of Pyongyang and other bilateral concerns on Monday with his South Korean counterpart.

Upon his arrival on Sunday, the American diplomat also took time out to enjoy some healthy traditional cuisine with his longtime friend, U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert, at a restaurant serving samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup).

“This is my first trip as deputy secretary of state, and it is no coincidence that that first trip is to Northeast Asia and that the first stop is here in Seoul,” Blinken told reporters after talks with Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong. “It’s a reflection of the importance that President [Barack] Obama and Secretary [of State John] Kerry attached to the region.”

As China voices its concern over a U.S.-led advanced missile defense system, Blinken has maintained that talks of the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) on the Korean Peninsula is “premature.” He added that it is a “purely defensive [system] aimed exclusively at dealing with the threat posed by North Korea.”

Blinken, who previously served as Obama’s deputy national security adviser, also said that until North Korea demonstrates that it is serious about denuclearization, “it’s important to sustain pressure on them and to sustain solidarity in the international community.”

He further told reporters that Japan and South Korea are Washington’s “closest partners” and encouraged the two countries to work through “difficult issues,” in reference to historical disputes. This task is something “we will continue to do in the weeks ahead,” he added.

Blinken’s three-country trip, part of Washington’s strategic rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region, takes him to Japan and China next.

Both he and Lippert are known as Democratic Party foreign policy elites who have emerged as Obama loyalists from the former Illinois senator’s campaign days.

Lippert and Blinken’s relationship dates back to at least 2008, when they were staff members on the Foreign Relations Committee in the U.S. Senate. Blinken also worked for Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who was then a senator, while Lippert worked under then-Senator Obama.

The two crossed paths in the White House when Blinken then served as National Security Adviser to Vice President Biden and Lippert served as chief of staff at the National Security Council.

When Blinken served as Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Lippert became Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs and later chief of staff to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Photos of Blinken with Ambassador Lippert enjoying samgyetang at a local restaurant in central Seoul were posted on Lippert’s Twitter account on Sunday. In a blog post prior to his arrival, Lippert wrote, “Tony also told me that he has heard a great deal about Korean food and wants to get out and eat some delicious Korean dishes.”

In January 2014, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se traveled to Washington for his first state visit that year.

In return, the United States sent three high-ranking officials to Seoul in early 2015, including Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of state for political affairs, and Rose Gottemoeller, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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