ByÂ Nicole Gaouette and Bomi Lim, Bloomberg News
Secretary of StateÂ Hillary Clinton and Defense SecretaryÂ Robert Gates visited the armed border that has divided the Korean peninsula for 60 years, in a gesture of solidarity with the South four months after one of its warships was sunk in an attack they said was carried out by the North.
Both U.S. secretaries used binoculars to look across the so-called Demilitarized Zone at North Korean troops facing off with South Korean forces at the worldâ€™s most heavily armedÂ border. Soldiers along the road to the observation post stood in the drizzling rain pointing their rifles into the surrounding woods, in a reminder that the two sides remain in a state of war.
â€œIt struck me that although it may be a thin line, these two countries are worlds apart,â€ said Clinton, who flew in overnight from Kabul en route to Hanoi for a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations tomorrow in what she described as â€œa real show of solidarity.â€
In the six decades since the 1950-1953 Cold War conflict ended in stalemate after China prevented a collapse by North Korean troops, South Korea has transformed into a modern, democratic country, while the North has â€œstagnated in isolation,â€ she said.
Clinton and Gates plan to meet their counterparts later today in Seoul. Their visit coincides with the arrival of the USS GeorgeÂ Washington aircraft carrier and three of its accompanying destroyers for military exercises that Gates said would send a â€œstrong signalâ€ to the North.
The March 26 sinking of the South Korean corvette, Cheonan, prompted a series of moves showcasing the U.S.-South Korea alliance, including yesterdayâ€™s announcement of the naval and air exercises off the Asian countryâ€™s east coast next week. The two countries agreed last month to delay a planned transfer of wartime operational control.
The U.S. has 28,500 soldiers in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 conflict, which ended in a cease-fire.
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