SEOUL - President Barack Obama on Friday offered South Korea heartfelt condolences for its "incredible loss" as the country struggles to come to terms with the sinking of a ferry packed with schoolchildren.
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 Obama handed Park the US flag which 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," Obama said before talks with 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," Obama said.
The confirmed death toll stood at 183 Friday, but 119 people remained unaccounted for.