(ATTN: UPDATES with foreign minister's remarks in paras 5-8)
SEOUL, Sept. 26 (Yonhap) -- President Yoon Suk-yeol said Monday that untrue media reports of his remarks caught on hot mic damaged South Korea's alliance with the United States in his first response to the controversy.
Last week, Yoon was caught on video making a remark privately to aides in New York that appeared to include vulgar words. Though the recording was not clear due to noise, many thought Yoon was talking about U.S. Congress and U.S. President Joe Biden.
But Yoon's office rejected the claim, saying he was referring to South Korea's opposition-controlled National Assembly without mentioning U.S. Congress or Biden. Yoon's ruling People Power Party also claimed people misheard Yoon's remarks because the video had a subtitle misrepresenting them.
"Damaging the alliance with untrue media reports would be putting people in danger," Yoon told reporters, adding that how such incorrect reports have circulated should be clearly verified.
Foreign Minister Park Jin, who was seen together with Yoon when he made the controversial remarks, told local broadcaster JTBC later Monday that he did not hear the president utter any vulgar words.
"There was an incredible number of people there. And there was all kinds of noise," he said.
Park repeated the presidential office's position that Yoon was likely expressing his concern that the National Assembly might reject his pledge to contribute US$100 million to the Global Fund, which would leave him embarrassed, as other countries, such as Germany, France and Canada, made commitments that were nine or 10 times larger.
"There was no mention of the ruling or opposition parties," he said. "Normally, in the case of the U.S., it would be referred to as Congress, not the National Assembly."
Yoon returned home last Saturday following a three-nation trip that took him to London for Queen Elizabeth II's state funeral, New York for the U.N. General Assembly and Canada for a summit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In New York, Yoon asked Biden to resolve South Korea's concerns over the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is feared to negatively impact Korean-made electric cars.
Yoon told reporters that Biden "fully understands" South Korea's stance over the IRA.
Yoon also held an informal meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in New York, marking the first bilateral meeting between South Korea and Japan in nearly three years.
The meeting between Yoon and Kishida raised hope of mending relations badly frayed over wartime forced labor and other issues related to Tokyo's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Yoon said he will "strongly push for normalization of Korea-Japan relations, regardless of any difficulties."
"Above all, Korean and Japanese companies are eager to normalize relations of the two countries," Yoon said. "I am confident that if Korea-Japan relations are normalized, companies from both countries will invest in each other, creating more jobs on both sides and helping the two countries grow further."