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Obama visit a crucial chance

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Nov 14,2009
U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Korea next week. In his interview with the Yonhap News Agency ahead of his trip, Obama said, “President Lee [Myung-bak] and I have established a very strong working relationship, which I think is quite evident in our close coordination on global issues, particularly on North Korea.”

The message is designed to calm the controversy that was prompted by U.S. officials’ reactions to President Lee’s proposal of a “grand bargain” about a month ago. At that time, Washington officials said they were not aware of the proposal, triggering speculation about a rift.

Obama appears to intend to show off the strong South Korea-U.S. alliance to the North, ahead of the planned trip to the North by his special envoy to the country, Stephen Bosworth. We welcome this plan.

The bilateral contact between Pyongyang and Washington is expected to serve as an important turning point in the nuclear impasse. The U.S. government has made clear that no substantial negotiations will take place bilaterally to resolve the nuclear crisis and the contact will be focused on persuading the North to return to the six-nation talks. North Korea has insisted that the nuclear crisis is a matter to be resolved between Washington and Pyongyang, apparently showing its determination to work through bilateral talks with the United States.

Amid such a situation, a special U.S. envoy will travel to Pyongyang, and some worry that the Obama administration may be manipulated by the North’s tactics. That’s why the U.S. and South Korean presidential summit next week will serve as a crucial juncture.

Lee and Obama must coordinate their overall view toward North Korea. In the past, U.S. and South Korean leaders have shown differences on their basic stances toward the North. Rifts emerged between the U.S. administration of George W. Bush and the South Korean administrations of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.

It is fortunate that Lee and Obama are both pragmatists, putting practical gains before ideology. Furthermore, the two countries have walked in step on North Korea policy so far. If Lee and Obama can share opinions frankly, the two governments will certainly strengthen their relationship. That is the most effective way to resolve the nuclear crisis on the peninsula.



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