REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak arrived in Washington on Tuesday to begin a six-day U.S. visit to huddle with President Obama on a host of issues, including North Korea and a pending U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement.
Lee’s trip will also include visits to Arlington National Cemetery and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The South Korean leader is also expected to deliver a speech before a joint session of Congress, which on Wednesday is expected to pass the free trade pact, first signed in 2007, following years of holdups.
Lee and Obama, who reportedly share a close personal friendship outside of politics, are expected to use the passage of the free trade agreement to illustrate the close ties between the two nations.
The two leaders are also scheduled to travel together to Detroit to visit U.S. automakers there in a symbolic gesture to demonstrate the benefits of the trade accord, which has been criticized by many in the U.S. as a potential harm to American auto sales. Koreans also have slammed the pact, saying it gives a decisive trade advantage to the U.S.
Lee plans to spend a night in Chicago, Obama’s hometown, to meet with business leaders there.
On the table will be discussions about the continued effort to convince North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to be a less destabilizing force in the northeast Asia region. Lee has taken a hard-line stance toward his nation’s northern neighbor, withholding financial aid until North Korea agrees to return to the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
Meanwhile, American officials underlined the warm relations between the U.S. and South Korea.
“We don’t have anything in particular that needs a coordination of positions,” a White House spokesman said. “We expect the two sides to simply reconfirm existing positions and celebrate the alliance that is more solid than ever.”
-- John M. Glionna
Photo: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and First Lady Kim Yoon-ok review an honor guard after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base on Oct. 11. Credit: EPA / Yonhap