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Obama Arrives for 1st Visit to S. Korea as President

Posted November. 19, 2009 09:30,   


U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday landed at the U.S. Air Force base in Osan, south of Seoul, around 7:40 p.m. U.S. presidents have landed at the base in Air Force One whenever they visit South Korea.

President Obama held small talk with Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Ambassador to Washington Han Duck-soo, who welcomed Obama at the base. Obama then cheered American soldiers and stepped into the presidential helicopter Marine One to move to a hotel in Seoul.

The hotel has been a favorite of U.S. presidents visiting Seoul due to security issues. After arriving at the hotel, Obama took a rest to prepare himself for his summit with President Lee Myung-bak.

President Lee had no official schedule yesterday and instead checked the agenda for his bilateral summit at his office. Because of his warm treatment when visiting Washington in June, he ordered his staff to pull out all the stops in providing the appropriate protocol and security for Obama.

Back in June, President Lee stayed at Blair House, the official guesthouse of the U.S. president, in Washington.

In today’s summit, both leaders plan to put focus on North Korea’s nuclear program and speeding up the ratification of the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.

On North Korea, they are expected to coordinate their opinions on President Lee’s “grand bargain” proposal, an initiative to deal with Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Though Obama failed to mention the grand bargain before his visit to Asia, he said, “President Lee and I are in a full agreement on the need to achieve a comprehensive package for the nuclear missile and proliferation problems.”

Sources close to the summit said Obama will explain that the visit to Pyongyang by special U.S. envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth is not designed to begin negotiations with North Korea, but to urge Pyongyang’s return to the six-party talks as soon as possible.

The two leaders will also discuss implementing the Joint Vision for the ROK-U.S. Alliance adopted at their June summit.

A more urgent issue, however, is the ratification of the bilateral free trade agreement. President Lee will discuss the matter first and talk about the nuclear issue later.

Though the Korean government has high expectations for a positive response from Obama, it has taken a careful approach. A survey of U.S. industries on the agreement conducted by the U.S. Trade Representative said around 90 percent fully back the deal.

Eighty-eight U.S. congressmen have also sent a letter to Obama urging faster action on the accord. Seoul, however, is well aware that the U.S. Senate is unlikely to ratify the deal soon because of complicated issues such as health care reform.

Accordingly, it remains to be seen whether the two leaders will just declare that they will strive to get the deal ratified as soon as possible or reach agreement on detailed plans.

They will also discuss South Korea’s hosting of the Group of 20 summit in November next year.

Another agenda item is the U.N. Climate Conference in Denmark next month. President Lee will say Korea will cut CO2 emissions 30 percent by 2020 and discuss cooperation in green growth with Obama.