President Biden on Wednesday will host South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol for an official state visit at the White House, putting the spotlight on the relationship between the U.S. and a key ally in Asia.
Biden and the first lady will welcome Yoon and his wife in a formal ceremony, followed by a bilateral meeting, a press conference and a formal state dinner with lawmakers, administration officials and special guests.
The visit will commemorate 70 years of the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea, officials said.
Here are the key items expected to be on the agenda.
A trove of leaked government documents included multiple mentions of South Korea, frustrating some lawmakers in Seoul and forcing the Biden administration to do clean up.
The documents detailed U.S. requests for South Korea to provide ammunition to Ukraine in its war against Russia. Support for Ukraine is a thorny issue for South Korea, as it is hoping to garner support from Russia to reign in missile tests by North Korea.
Yoon and his top officials have downplayed the severity of the leak, arguing it would have no negative impact on the U.S.-South Korea relationship. Some South Korean lawmakers, however, have argued the leak was a breach of trust that called for an apology from the U.S., according to The New York Times.
“I believe that this matter is no reason to shake the ironclad trust that supports the U.S.-South Korea alliance, because it is based on shared values like freedom,” Yoon told NBC News on Monday.
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday said U.S. officials are engaging with allies and partners, including in South Korea, to “reassure them of our commitment to safeguarding intelligence and fidelity to our security partnerships.”
“Our commitment to the [Republic of Korea] is ironclad and has been and will continue to be so,” she said.
A central focus of the meeting will likely be how the two leaders can deal with North Korea, which has been more aggressively testing missiles in recent months.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday that Biden “will reinforce and enhance our extended deterrence commitments to South Korea with respect to the threat the DPRK poses.”
Administration officials said Biden and his team will underscore their commitment to diplomatic efforts on the peninsula, as well as the importance of human rights.
“We are ready to meet at any time, at any place to address serious concerns, and we are open to the possibility of humanitarian assistance with appropriate safeguards to help the people of the DPRK,” Sullivan said.
Tensions on the peninsula have been heightened over the past year in particular. North Korea has launched roughly 100 missiles since the start of 2022, putting South Korea and Japan in particular on high alert.
North Korea has also taken issue with joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, viewing it as a threat.
Biden administration officials have stressed that they are willing to keep diplomatic channels with North Korea open, though they have not had the same level of contact as the Trump administration, where then-President Trump and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both met with Kim Jong-Un.
Biden and Yoon are likely to highlight the growing economic ties between their two nations during Wednesday’s meetings and public statements.
The Biden administration announced earlier this year that Korean solar power company Hanwha Q Cells will spend more than $2.5 billion to expand its Dalton, Ga., facility, the largest one-time investment in solar manufacturing in U.S. history.
Ahead of this week’s visit, General Motors and South Korea’s Samsung SDI announced plans to invest more than $3 billion in a new electric vehicle battery cell plant in the United States, which would begin operations in 2026.
“Investment by ROK companies in the United States shows great confidence in the U.S. economy and where the United States is going,” a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday.
Officials framed this week’s state visit as part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to bolster its alliances in the Indo-Pacific to counter Chinese influence.
A senior administration official noted that the state visit will mark the fifth time Biden has met with the leader of South Korea since taking office. Biden will also travel to the region next month for the Group of Seven (G-7) summit, which is being held in Japan.
“It’s important to place this visit in the larger context of President biden taking the necessary steps to really step up our game fundamentally across the Indo-Pacific,” the official said..
The senior administration official noted the Biden administration has worked with South Korea to redirect some of its economic and technology investments that have previously gone to China so that they now go to the United States.
And Sullivan on Monday celebrated that Yoon “has also shown determination and courage in his moves to improve ties between the ROK and Japan, an issue that has long been of deep interest to President Biden.”
Biden and Yoon will hold a joint press conference with reporters from both nations on Wednesday, which is common during state visits but has become less of a staple of foreign leader visits under the Biden administration.
White House reporters have pressed Jean-Pierre and other administration officials in recent weeks over the lack of formal press conferences with Biden, which have in the past been standard during foreign leader visits. Jean-Pierre has typically said it is a joint decision made with the visiting foreign leader.
Biden has in the past few months hosted foreign leaders from Brazil, Ireland and Colombia, but has not held a joint press conference with any of them. He also did not hold a press conference during a recent trip to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
In some cases, such as when the Colombian president visited last week, foreign leaders have opted to speak to reporters solo outside the West Wing.