South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will visit the United States next month for his first face-to-face talks with US President George W Bush, Lee’s office announced on Wednesday.
The summit was expected to help develop personal ties between the two leaders, whose countries have seen traditionally friendly relations fray in recent years.
Lee, a pro-American conservative who took office two weeks ago with a pledge to boost the alliance with Washington, will hold talks with Bush at the Camp David presidential retreat in the eastern US state of Maryland on April 18-19, a statement from South Korea’s presidential Blue House said.
Key topics were expected to include the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear programs and a free trade deal awaiting legislative approval.
Lee will be the first South Korean president to visit Camp David – one of the places where Bush has hosted foreign leaders to boost their personal ties, along with his ranch in Texas – the presidential office said. Previous summits between the two countries were held at the White House.
The Camp David invitation “reflects the US welcome and President Bush’s personal trust” in Lee, said spokesman Lee Dong-kwan. “The summit is expected to serve as an opportunity to upgrade the South Korea-US alliance.”
In Seoul, US Embassy spokesman Max Kwak said the summit would also be announced later in Washington.
Lee has said that “repairing” his nation’s alliance with Washington would be one of his top foreign policy priorities, and that their relations “lacked trust” under his liberal predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun.
Roh, who was elected on a pledge not to “kowtow” to Washington, sought to decrease Seoul’s security dependence on the US, inviting conservative criticism he was alienating the country’s traditional ally.
The United States fought alongside South Korea under a UN mandate in the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, leaving the sides still technically at war. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the communist North.
Calling for stronger defense capabilities, Lee told top military leaders Wednesday that the country’s alliance with the US is “very important” to deter aggression from North Korea.
Before heading to the retreat, Lee will visit New York on April 15-16 and Washington on April 16-18, the presidential office said.
On his way home, Lee will stop in Tokyo for his second summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. The Japanese leader came to Seoul for Lee’s February 25 inauguration and they held their first summit later that day.
Earlier Wednesday, Lee met former US President George HW Bush, who arrived in South Korea on Tuesday for a three-day trip at the invitation of a local defense firm.
Lee and Bush exchanged pleasantries, mostly about sports, during a chat open to the press. Lee’s office declined to give details of their private discussions.
South Korean media have speculated that the elder Bush may visit North Korea to try to break an impasse over Pyongyang’s nuclear programs. But the former president’s chief of staff, Jean Becker, denied such a possibility. (AP)
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