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The Peninsula

The Lee-Obama Summit – A Celebration

Published October 12, 2011

By Amb. Charles (Jack) Pritchard

The official State Visit by Republic of Korea President Lee Myung-bak this week marks a true celebration of a remarkable partnership between the United States and the Republic of Korea.  We are all familiar with the origin of the relationship and the amazing success story of Korea’s rise from the ashes of the Korean War to become the nation that it is today.  President Lee’s visit has more to do with the unparalleled state of the relationship and his commitment to it.

I do not know of any serious Korea-watcher who does not attribute the improvement of the U.S.-Korea relationship primarily to President Lee. Like any other relationship, it takes two to Tango and both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama deserve great credit for nurturing the relationship in partnership with President Lee.

That said, the Summit offers an opportunity to celebrate a number of accomplishments and to lay the groundwork for even more in the future.  More than four years after the KORUS FTA was signed, the Congress will ratify the agreement.  With that action, attention will shift to Korea where it will be the National Assembly’s turn to formally ratify the FTA.  This is cause for celebration.  The KORUS FTA is a win-win situation for both countries and marks a significant change in the strategic relationship.  The basis of the alliance has rested primarily on the security component and extensive people-to-people ties.  With ratification of the KORUS FTA, the economic component of the alliance provides a complete balance to the strategic relationship.

There are few concrete issues that will demand the attention of the two presidents and little likelihood of any new agreements.  The close consultation on how to deal with North Korea over the past 3 years means that we can expect a public validation of how things will proceed.  Seoul has had two recent meetings with Pyongyang and Washington will hold its first substantive discussion with North Korea later this month.  Whether or not an acceptable path forward on the resumption of Six Party Talks can be reached is questionable.  Both governments appear to have come to the same conclusion that even if talks resume, there is little likelihood that real progress on denuclearization can be made.

I would also expect that there will be an acknowledgement that both parties are moving quickly to craft the required 123 Nuclear Agreement that will renew bilateral nuclear cooperation between the U.S. and Korea once the existing agreement expires in 2014.

The arrival ceremony, the vice president’s lunch, the speech before a joint session of Congress, the summit meeting and State Dinner are all designed to show to the Korean people the enormous pride and respect we have in our extraordinary relationship.

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