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Afghanistan on agenda at Korea-U.S. Seoul summit

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Aug 06,2008
U.S. President George W. Bush, left, his daughter Barbara, center, and his wife Laura Bush arrive at a military airport in Seongnam, south of Seoul, yesterday evening. By Kim Seong-ryong

A top United States administration official yesterday urged the South Korean military to play a greater role around the world to promote democracy, mentioning a possible Korean deployment to Afghanistan.

Dennis Wilder, National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the White House, made the comments aboard Air Force One that was taking his boss, President George W. Bush, to a summit meeting in Korea.

Noting that the Korean military is capable of becoming an “enabler to democracy in other areas,” Wilder said, “Obviously we’d like to see a greater role for South Koreans in Afghanistan, if the South Korean people are willing to move in that direction. But I think that is going to be at the heart of their discussion.”

A transcript of Wilder’s remarks was released by the White House yesterday.

Bush arrived in Seoul yesterday evening, starting his two-day visit to South Korea. The meeting with President Lee Myung-bak is scheduled for this morning with a joint press conference to follow.

Wilder said Washington’s expectation for Korea’s participation in the U.S.-led democracy-building efforts in Afghanistan is expected to come up during the summit as the leaders focus discussions on “the 21st century strategic alliance between Korea and the United States” in both global and bilateral levels.

At Washington’s request, Seoul deployed a medical unit in 2002 to Afghanistan and an engineering and construction unit in 2003. The non-combat contingents were pulled out from the country at the end of last year after Seoul pledged the withdrawal to rescue a group of Korean hostages from the Taliban.

“They’ll talk about global issues, particularly those areas of the world where we are cooperating closely - like Iraq and Afghanistan,” Wilder said. “They’ll talk about bilateral issues; certainly review the military realignment policy and review how we’re doing on base transformation in Korea.”

In Seoul, President Lee also emphasized the importance of the nation’s alliance with the United States. In a cabinet meeting on the eve of Bush’s visit, Lee said that “the root of our diplomacy is the U.S.-South Korea alliance.” He said, “Bolstering the alliance will positively influence Korea’s relations with Japan and North Korea.”

Other issues to be discussed by Lee and Bush are North Korea’s nuclear facilities and ratification of the free trade agreement. Despite continued protests by some South Koreans over the safety of U.S. beef, Wilder said he didn’t think it would be a big issue.

The Blue House said yesterday both American and Korean beef will be served at the presidential luncheon today.


By Ser Myo-ja Staff Reporter [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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