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Is This The End of Bumpy Summits between Two Allies?
Published May 25, 2011
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For the first time in a decade the leaders of the United States and Korea held an amiable summit meeting. The meetings between presidents Clinton and Kim Dae-jung were cordial, as they agreed on policy toward North Korea. But after George W. Bush took office the relationship between the two long-time allies deteriorated. The first meeting between presidents Kim and Bush was disastrous, and many Koreans were offended by the perception of discourtesies of the new U.S. Administration. It was clear that the new administration was taking a more confrontational approach with North Korea and that it was skeptical of the “Sunshine Policy” that was formulated and implemented under the Kim administration. The first meeting between Bush and Roh Moo-hyun was not even called a summit. Despite the fact that it was Roh’s first trip to the United States as president, the trip was labeled as an official trip rather than a formal state visit. And, because of their differences on most basic issues, their first meeting was said to be the most difficult summit ever held by the leaders of the two countries. The relationship began to improve with Lee Myung-bak’s meeting with Bush last year. They shared business backgrounds, conservative free market principles, and pragmatic assessments of North Korea. But President Lee’s decision on the eve of the summit to lift the restriction on imports of U.S. beef nearly ended his presidency. The Korean public was infuriated by this agreement, and many saw it as a “political gift” to Bush before the summit.

The Obama-Lee summit on June 16 seems to have been a success. They reaffirmed the security alliance between the two countries and pledged anew a continuing friendship. The two presidents spent several hours together, including a one-on-one session, expanded talks with officials, Obama's first Rose Garden press availability with a foreign leader, and a working lunch.

Undoubtedly, the leaders spent much time discussing North Korea’s nuclear threat, but they also talked about their mutual vision for the future and agreed on many important regional and global issues.

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