South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Thursday likened Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to North Korea’s attack against the South during the early 1950s as he commended the 70-year alliance between his country and the United States.

“Freedom and democracy are once again under threat,” he told U.S. lawmakers during a speech to a joint session of Congress. “When North Korea invaded us in 1950, democracies came running to help us. We fought together and kept our freedom.”

Since June, South Korea has shipped more than $100 million in aid to Ukraine in the form of vaccines, medical equipment, body armor and power generators.

Yet Yoon’s administration has denied sending lethal aid directly to Ukraine, citing its relationship with Russia. South Korea’s trade policies also mandate that exports must be for peaceful purposes and not “affect international peace, safety maintenance, and national security.”

Yoon’s speech on Capitol Hill — the first from a South Korean president since 2013 — was part of a U.S. visit that included a meeting and news conference at the White House, where he and President Joe Biden signed the Washington Declaration, a statement promising their two countries will “engage in deeper, cooperative decision-making on nuclear deterrence.”

The declaration reaffirms Washington’s commitment to defend Seoul by using “the full range of U.S. capabilities, including nuclear,” and states a North Korean nuclear attack against the South “will be met with a swift, overwhelming and decisive response.”

North Korea has fired 12 ballistic missiles in nine separate days of testing so far this year. In its last test on April 13, the regime fired what it described as a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, or the East Sea.

In Yoon’s speech to U.S. lawmakers, he urged North Korea to “cease its provocations and take the right path” of denuclearization.

“My government will respond firmly to provocations,” Yoon said. “But at the same time, we will keep the door open for dialogue [with North Korea].”

South Korea’s path toward democracy and its status as the 10th largest economy in the world is a testament to the “mutually beneficial” relationship between Washington and Seoul, Yoon said.

He also vowed to “never forget the great American heroes who fought with us” and recounted the history of the Korean War and how “Korean and American soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder.”

“Korea’s freedom and democracy were on the brink,” Yoon said. “At that decisive moment, the U.S. did not look the other way.”

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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