US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to arrive in South Korea on Wednesday for talks on North Korea, alliance and regional issues, amid growing concerns over the North's closer military ties with Russia.
Blinken is expected to arrive at the US Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 60 kilometers south of Seoul, late at night, flying in from Tokyo where he attended a Group of Seven (G7) foreign ministerial meeting.
It marks his first trip to Seoul since the launch of the government of President Yoon Suk Yeol in May 2022, and first in nearly 2 1/2 years after his last visit here for a "two plus two" meeting of the foreign and defense chiefs.
On Thursday, Blinken will hold bilateral talks with Foreign Minister Park Jin and meet with top security officials in Seoul. He is also expected to pay a courtesy call on Yoon.
His visit comes amid concerns that Pyongyang is in the final stage of preparations to make a third attempt to put a military spy satellite into orbit, after its failed attempts in May and August.
South Korea suspects Russia's involvement in the technical assistance for the test launch, as part of an arms deal at the rare September summit between the North's leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The United States revealed last month that Pyongyang provided Moscow with a large amount of military equipment and munitions for use in Russia's war in Ukraine.
Blinken is expected to discuss ways to respond to the expanding military cooperation between the North and Russia and the North's continued nuclear and missile threats.
He will likely use the trip to reaffirm Washington's commitment to defending its key Asian ally against security threats posed by the North and highlight the US' steadfast strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific, even amid the Israel-Hamas war and other global challenges.
China-related issues could be discussed ahead of a highly anticipated summit between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco, set for later this month.
Also on the table will be the Israel-Hamas conflict, as Washington is bolstering diplomacy to prevent the war from spreading and to facilitate humanitarian aid into the besieged Gaza Strip.
Before coming to Asia, Blinken had a marathon trip through the Middle East region, where he pushed for those two objectives.
He will fly out of Seoul on Thursday and head for India, the last leg of his Asia swing, before returning home. (Yonhap)