SEOUL (AFP) - United States President Barack Obama on Friday offered South Korea heartfelt condolences over its "incredible loss" as the country struggles to come to terms with the sinking of a ferry packed with schoolchildren.
Mr Obama offered any help America could give to the US ally as he met South Korean President Park Geun Hye on the second leg of his Asian tour.
The two leaders bowed their heads in a moment of silence, and Mr Obama handed Ms Park the US flag that had flown over the White House on the day the ferry sank on April 16 as a gesture of respect from the American people.
"I'm very mindful that my visit comes at a time of mourning for the people of this nation," Mr Obama said before talks with Ms Park at the presidential Blue House.
"I know that President Park and the South Korean government are very focused in responding to the ferry," he said.
"For now, I just want to express, on the part of the American people, condolences for the incredible loss that has taken place," Mr Obama said.
Speaking through a translator, Ms Park thanked Mr Obama for the moment of silence and pledged that South Korea would pull through the tragedy.
"The Korean people draw great strength from your kindness," she said.
"Just as the American people were able to rally after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, so too am I sure the Korean people will pull together," she added.
The confirmed death toll stood at 183 on Friday, but 119 people remained unaccounted for.