South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol told NBC News that the recent leak of Pentagon documents that exposed US spying on Seoul would not impact ties between the two nations.
“I believe that this matter is no reason to shake the ironclad trust that supports the US-South Korea alliance because it is based on shared values like freedom,” Yoon said.
The leaked documents enraged South Korea’s opposition, but Yoon’s government has downplayed the spying as it seeks to strengthen the US-South Korean military alliance. Yoon arrived in the US on Monday and is due to hold a summit with President Biden on Wednesday and will address Congress on Thursday.
The documents detailed a conversation between two South Korean officials about concerns that selling ammunition to the US that might end up in Ukraine could violate Seoul’s long-standing policy of not sending arms into conflict zones.
One possible workaround they discussed was selling ammunition to Poland with an agreement that Warsaw would be the end user but knowing the ammo would eventually end up in Ukraine. Since the leaks came out, South Korea has confirmed it plans to go ahead with a weapons sale to Warsaw.
Yoon’s visit to Washington comes amid soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Washington and Seoul have resumed massive war games that were paused for years, which have involved the deployment of US bombers and other assets to South Korea. The war games have provoked more North Korean missile tests, and there’s no end in sight to the tensions as both sides continue tit-for-tat escalations.
Yoon is expected to seek more guarantees from Biden when it comes to protection under the US nuclear umbrella. He has previously suggested the US should redeploy nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula and also warned Seoul could develop its own, making him the first South Korean leader to threaten to acquire nukes since 1991.
Biden and Yoon will also discuss China and Taiwan as the US wants to enlist South Korea in its campaign against Beijing. Yoon recently angered Beijing by calling Taiwan a “global issue.”