Summit talks focused on FTA, security alliance, North Korea
WASHINGTON D.C. -- President Lee Myung-bak on Thursday said Korea and the U.S. have agreed to develop their ties into an “even stronger alliance,” a day after the U.S. Congress ratified the two countries’ free trade agreement.
Lee also said he expects to see progress in inter-Korean relations and the North Korean nuclear stalemate as a proposed project to pipe Siberian gas through North Korea to South Korea proceeds.
“(The gas pipeline project) will take some time, and there will be progress in inter-Korean relations and the North Korean nuclear problem in the process,” Lee said during a joint press conference after summit talks with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House.
President Lee Myung-bak shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama during their news conference at the White House on Thursday. (Yonhap News)
“Russia and North Korea are in talks (over the pipeline plan), but it has not been discussed among the three countries yet.”
During the summit Lee and Obama shared confidence that the landmark FTA will upgrade their 60-year-old military alliance. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the KORUS FTA, which was signed in 2007 and revised late last year. The Korean National Assembly has yet to ratify it.
“I can never say it enough the commitment of the United States to the defense and security of the Republic of Korea will never waver and as we have for decades, the United States will maintain our strong presence in the Asia-Pacific which is a foundation for security and prosperity in Asia in the 21st century,” Obama said during the joint press conference.
Obama also said that North Korea “continues to pose a direct threat to the security of both our nations” and that Seoul and Washington “are entirely united” on how to deal with Pyongyang. They have “succeeded in changing the equation with the North by showing that its provocations will be met, not with rewards, but with even stronger sanctions and isolations,” he added.
“So the choice is clear for North Korea. If Pyongyang continues to ignore its international obligations, it will invite even more pressure and isolation. If the North abandons its quest for nuclear weapons and moves toward denuclearization, it will enjoy greater security and opportunity for its people. That's the choice that North Korea faces,” he said.
Lee said that he agreed with Obama to continue to work closely together to end Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions while sticking to a “principled approach,” referring to his long-standing policy that unless the North denuclearizes, no large aid will be provided.
The only way for North Korea to ensure happiness of its people is “to abandon its nuclear ambitions,” Lee said, adding that Seoul will “speak with one voice” with the United States on North Korea issues.
About the FTA, Lee hailed it as the “beginning of an economic alliance” with the U.S.
Obama said the deal is “a win for both our countries.”
“In short, this agreement will boost American exports by up to $11 billion and support some 70,000 American jobs,” he said.
The Obama administration has fully backed the South’s position on the North, maintaining that improvement in inter-Korean relations was a precondition for better ties between Washington and Pyongyang.
After the press conference, Lee delivered a speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Thursday, the third day of Lee’s five-day official state visit.
Lee thanked the members of the U.S. Senate and House for promptly passing the FTA five days after Obama submitted it to the Congress.
“Here, where the Mutual Defense Treaty was signed by Korea and the United States in 1953, a new chapter in our relationship has opened. Our relationship has become stronger,” Lee said.
“Perhaps you have heard what the experts have said: that America’s economic output will grow more due to the Korea-U.S. FTA than from America’s last nine trade agreements combined.”
Lee said the deal also has fair labor provisions, rigorous environmental standards and strong protections for intellectual property rights.
Lee and Obama celebrated the deal's final passage while dining together at a local Korean restaurant Wednesday evening.
Lee is scheduled to stop by in Detroit, home to the three largest U.S. automakers, Friday before visiting Chicago.
By Kim So-hyun
Korea Herald correspondent