It was a visit filled with symbolism. The top U.S. diplomat and military chief stood at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, gazing northward in the rain.
Their presence along the heavily fortified frontier was a stark reminder of the priority the United States places on its alliance with democratic South Korea, more than half a century after the Korean War ended in a truce, without a peace treaty.
Some 2 million troops remain massed along both sides of the DMZ.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that the United States stands firmly with South Korea.
Clinton also announced that Washington will impose new sanctions aimed at stifling the North's nuclear activities, and targeting illicit moneymaking schemes used to fund them.
At the same time, she held out an olive branch to the communist North.
"We continue to send a message to the North: There is another way. There is a way that can benefit the people of the North," Clinton said.
"But until they change direction, the United States stands firmly on behalf of the people and the government of the Republic of Korea."
She was referring to U.S. offers of help to the impoverished North if it gives up its nuclear bomb-making program.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the North has suffered from its isolation.
"It's stunning how little has changed up in the North and yet how much South Korea continues to grow and prosper," he said. "The North, by contrast, stagnates in isolation and deprivation."
Their remarks come as tensions on the peninsula are rising again over the North's nuclear program and the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.
The two officials laid a wreath at a memorial to the 46 South Korean sailors killed in the warship incident. An international investigation determined that a torpedo fired by North Korea was responsible for sinking the "Cheonan" -- though this has been denied by Pyongyang.
As part of their reaction to the incident, the United States and South Korea are holding a major joint naval exercise aimed at deterring North Korea. The exercises have been criticized both by North Korea and its only major ally, China.
Officials say the July 25-28 drill in the Sea of Japan will involve about 20 ships, including the 97,000-ton U.S. aircraft carrier "USS George Washington" and some 200 military planes.
compiled from agency reports