The top U.S. diplomat on East Asian policy, Kurt Campbell, voiced hope on Tuesday that Washington wants to maintain the "strongest possible" relationship with Seoul's new government, a day before he meets with President-elect Park Geun-hye.
Campbell arrived at Incheon International Airport earlier in the day with other senior officials from the White House and the Pentagon, marking the first high-profile visit by U.S. officials to Seoul since Park's election victory last month.
"I'd like to underscore very directly how great it is to be back and how much we look forward to maintaining the strongest possible relationship between the two after the important political steps both in Seoul and Washington," Campbell said in brief remarks upon his arrival.
Campbell said his delegation's visit is aimed at reaffirming "the strong relationship between the U.S. and Korea" and exploring "our common goals and ambitions on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region and the recent developments."
The U.S. officials are scheduled to pay a courtesy call to Park on Wednesday afternoon, in a meeting that is expected to touch on North Korea as the allies seek to fine-tune their coordinated approach toward the North, a Seoul official said earlier.
The American delegation is also expected to deliver a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama to Park, who will be sworn into office next month for her five-year term.
Campbell was accompanied by U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Mark Lippert and National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs Daniel Russel.
Before paying a courtesy call to Park, they will also meet with Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik and Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kyou-hyun, a senior foreign ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.
"As the new government is set to be inaugurated here, the two sides are beginning to take steps to fine-tune their policy direction toward North Korea," the official said.
Their trip marks the first high-profile visit by U.S. officials to Seoul since Park's election victory last month.
Park has emphasized the importance of closer ties with the U.S., a key ally, by pledging to upgrade the bilateral relationship to a "comprehensive strategic alliance," while pledging to seek more engagement with North Korea than her predecessor.
The trip also comes at a time when South Korea and the U.S. are still rallying support for the U.N. Security Council to take a tougher response to the North's Dec. 12 rocket launch, but China has said any U.N. response to North Korea should be "prudent."
North Korea insists the launch was a peaceful bid to put a satellite into orbit, but South Korea, the U.S. and others have condemned it as a disguised test of long-range ballistic missile technology.
Concerns persist that North Korea may conduct a third nuclear test following the latest rocket launch. On Monday, the North's foreign ministry vowed to strengthen an unspecified "deterrence against all forms of war," citing U.S. hostility against the communist regime.