South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol overheard insulting U.S. Congress as ‘idiots’

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol was caught on a hot mic Wednesday insulting members of the US Congress as “idiots” who could potentially embarrass President Biden if they don’t approve funding for the global public health.

Yoon had just met with Biden at the Global Fund’s seventh replenishment conference in New York City. There, Biden had pledged US$6 billion to the public health campaign, which fights AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria worldwide. Funding would require congressional approval.

“It would be so humiliating for Biden if these idiots don’t pass it in Congress,” Yoon was heard telling a group of attendees as they left the event. Video of the exchange quickly went viral in South Korea, where Yoon took office in May as a political novice. He has never held elected office and has no prior experience in foreign policy.

South Korea’s presidential office denied on Thursday that Yoon’s remarks were directed at the United States. His spokeswoman said Yoon did not mention Biden by name and was misheard for a similar word in Korean. Kim Eun-hye, the spokeswoman, also said Yoon was referring to South Korea’s parliament rather than the US Congress.

The justification Kim gave did not impress critics in Seoul. Park Hong-geun, floor leader of the opposition Democratic Party, called it “a baseless excuse” by the presidential office trying to cover up a “diplomatic disaster”.

A spokesman for the National Security Council said in a statement Thursday that it “would not comment on the microphone comments.”

“Our relationship with the Republic of Korea is strong and growing,” the statement said. “President Biden considers President Yoon a key ally. The two leaders had a good and productive meeting yesterday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.”

Yoon and Biden were both in New York for the UN General Assembly, where they held discussions on the sidelines on Wednesday.

“The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea and ensure close cooperation in dealing with the threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” he said. the White House said in a reading of their meeting. “The presidents also discussed our ongoing cooperation 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 growing trade tensions between the allies over the Biden administration’s new rules on subsidies for electric vehicles. The Inflation Reduction Act signed by Biden will eliminate consumer tax credits for South Korean automakers without operating electric vehicle plants in the United States.

“President Yoon requested close cooperation so that the US administration can address our concerns in the implementation process of the Inflation Reduction Act,” Yoon’s office said in a statement.

Min Joo Kim reported from Seoul.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol responded strongly when asked about gender issues by a Washington Post reporter on September 21. (Video: The Washington Post)

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