“It would be so humiliating for Biden if these idiots don’t pass it in Congress,” Yoon was overheard telling a group of aides as they exited the event. Video of the exchange quickly went viral in South Korea, where Yoon took office in May as a political freshman. He has never held elected office and has no foreign policy experience.
South Korea’s presidential office on Thursday denied that Yoon’s remarks were directed against the United States. His spokeswoman said Yoon did not mention Biden by name and was interrogated for a similar-sounding word in Korean. Kim Eun-hye, the spokeswoman, also said Yoon was referring to the South Korean Parliament and not the US Congress.
The reasoning Kim gave did not impress critics in Seoul. Park Hong-geun, parliamentary leader of the opposition Democratic Party, called it “an unfounded apology” from the presidential office trying to cover up a “diplomatic disaster”.
A spokesman for the National Security Counsel said in a statement Thursday that he would “not comment on the hot mic’s comments.”
“Our relationship with the Republic of Korea is strong and growing,” the statement said. “President Biden counts President Yoon as an important ally. The two heads of state and government had a good and productive meeting yesterday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.”
Yoon and Biden were both at the UN General Assembly in New York, where they held sideline talks on Wednesday.
“The two leaders reiterated their commitment to strengthening the US-Korea alliance and ensuring close cooperation to counter the threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” the White House said in a readout their meeting. “The Presidents also discussed our ongoing collaboration on a wide range of priority issues, including supply chain resilience, critical technologies, economic and energy security, global health and climate change.”
The presidential meeting came amid rising trade tensions between the allies over the Biden administration’s new subsidy rules for electric vehicles. The Inflation Reduction Act signed by Biden will eliminate excise tax credits for South Korean automakers without operational EV plants in the United States.
“President Yoon requested close cooperation to enable the US government to address our concerns in the anti-inflation law enforcement process,” Yoon’s office said in a statement.
Min Joo Kim reported from Seoul.