SEOUL: United States President Joe Biden and his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk Yeol met in Seoul on Saturday to discuss fears of a nuclear weapon test by North Korea, even as the secretive East Asian nation battles a raging Covid-19 outbreak.

Biden began his day by paying respects at the Seoul National Cemetery, where soldiers killed defending South Korea, including many who fought alongside US troops in the Korean War, are buried.

Wearing white gloves, the US president laid a wreath at the Memorial Tower, which honors tens of thousands of soldiers whose bodies were never recovered.

He then held closed-door talks with Yoon ahead of a joint press conference and state dinner.

On Sunday, Biden, who is making his first trip to Asia as president, will travel to another key US ally, Japan.

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A US official said that in addition to tensions over North Korea and the US-led campaign to punish Russia for invading Ukraine, Biden's main focus on Saturday was establishing "a strong personal relationship" with Yoon, who is less than two weeks into his presidency.

Like Japan, South Korea is seen as a key player in US strategy to contain China and maintain what Washington calls the "free and open Indo-Pacific."

Biden's trip "is about demonstrating unity and resolve and strengthening the coordination between our closest allies," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

However, the visit is overshadowed by what the US official called "saber-rattling" across the heavily fortified border in North Korea, which the White House believes might use the high-profile state visit to test either a nuclear-capable missile or explosive.

South Korean intelligence has also warned that Pyongyang had recently completed preparations for a nuclear test.

"From our standpoint, we are ready," the US official told reporters.

Biden began his trip on Friday night by accompanying Yoon on a tour of a massive Samsung semiconductor factory. Relations between the two leaders "got off to a very good start," the US official said.

In his first remarks on arrival, Biden said the US-South Korean alliance is "a linchpin of peace, stability and prosperity" and highlighted the Samsung plant's role in maintaining the fragile global supply chain for semiconductors.

The chips are a vital component in almost every piece of sophisticated modern technology, and Seoul and Washington need to work to "keep our supply chains resilient, reliable and secure," he added.

For the US leader, whose Democratic Party fears a possible trouncing in midterm elections in November, snarled supply chains are an acute domestic political challenge, with Americans increasingly frustrated over rising prices and setbacks in the post-Covid pandemic recovery.

Biden emphasized Samsung's decision to build a new semiconductor plant in Texas, opening in 2024.

Adding to the uncertainty about what is happening in North Korea is the ongoing coronavirus spread there, which leader Kim Jong Un is struggling to contain.

How the crisis impacts his decision on nuclear tests is one of the many unknowns that US and South Korean officials are weighing.

"We are very concerned about the Covid situation in the DPRK," the US official said, using the acronym of the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"We're very sensitive to the fact that they appear to be facing quite a serious situation. And I think you've seen we stand ready to work with others in the international community as needed to provide assistance," the official added.

Former Central Intelligence Agency analyst Soo Kim told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that North Korea's next step would help steer the US-South Korean relationship under Yoon.

"Should Kim proceed with a test during Biden's visit, he will effectively be helping the two countries find greater justification to work together on the North Korea issue," she said.