The U.S. Defense Department threw an elaborate honor guard parade for South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday in a display of its respect for the leader of one of the country's strongest allies.
Park is the first South Korean president to attend what is known as a "Full Honor Parade" at the Pentagon, officials said. Her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, also visited the Pentagon in 2011, but a scaled-back parade was held at the time.
Such smaller-scale ceremonies were also held when other foreign leaders visited the Pentagon this year, such as Afghanistan's president, Tunisia's president and Somalia's prime minister. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also attended a scaled-back ceremony in 2013, officials said.
Friday's full 16-minute parade involved about 250 soldiers from all branches of the armed forces, a 21-round gun salute, the playing of the national anthems of the two countries, and the presidential inspection of the honor guard and the honor guard's parade.
Park's visit to the Pentagon was seen as aimed at demonstrating the strength of the Korea-U.S. alliance after her attendance at last month's massive Chinese military parade raised questions about whether Seoul is tilting too much toward Beijing.
As Park arrived at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter escorted her to the reviewing stand. A gun salute was then fired and the national anthems were played. Park also inspected the honor guards from the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard.
U.S. officials in attendance at the ceremony included U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti and Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear. South Korean officials included Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.
Park later held talks with Carter about such issues as North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, the transfer of the operational control of South Korean forces from Washington to Seoul, cybersecurity and space cooperation, officials said.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, also attended the meeting.
Park later gave a pep talk to dozens of U.S. and South Korean soldiers on the rope line near Carter's conference room.
She called the South Korea-U.S. alliance "the strongest alliance" in the world and said the two sides will become global partners upholding their common values and ideal.
"Korea thanks you. We go together," Park told the soldiers.
U.S. President Barack Obama also held such a "rope line meeting" when he visited the Pentagon in October last year. It is unusual for the Pentagon to allow a foreign leader to hold such a meeting with its soldiers, officials said. (Yonhap)