Lee and Park set to meet after 10 months

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Lee and Park set to meet after 10 months

A meeting between President Lee Myung-bak and his Grand National Party archrival Park Geun-hye will likely take place right before or after the July 28 legislative by-elections, according to the new chairman of the ruling party.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday, Ahn Sang-soo said both reacted positively to the idea of a meeting.

“At a meeting with President Lee yesterday, I suggested him to meet former [GNP] chairwoman Park, and the President said ‘I am okay anytime. I will talk heart-to-heart [with Park] about pending state affairs,’” Ahn said.

Ahn said he met Park on Friday and she is also open to a meeting with Lee.

If it comes through, it will be the first Lee-Park meeting since September 2009. In September, Park met Lee to brief him about her visit to Europe as a special presidential envoy.

A Lee-Park meeting has been increasingly discussed by GNP members in the wake of the party’s recent setbacks on major political issues. The party has groped for ways to turn public opinion around after a series of blows dealt by the opposition Democratic Party, including its losses in the June 2 local elections and the opposition’s victory in killing Lee’s Sejong City development legislation.

Park, who lost to Lee in the GNP’s presidential primary in 2007, has a significant number of followers within the party.

The pro-Park coalition has refused to work together with Lee supporters on many issues, resulting in a schism within the GNP, which occupies 168 out of 299 assembly seats. The biggest opposition party, the DP, occupies 84.

Some GNP members have sought the meeting to take place as early as this week and before the by-elections, which will be another test of public support for the GNP. Eight National Assembly seats will be filled.

Ahn said it is not certain whether the meeting will be held before the by-elections, citing the needed for preparations.

“We need time for fine-tuning [the meeting],” he said. “Many such meetings have backfired because of the lack of preparations.”

The chairman said the meeting is not specifically a preparation for the by-elections, but rather a trust-building measure.

“Regardless of the elections, the two need to meet frequently,” said Ahn, adding that it’s abnormal that the two leaders have not met for so long. “It’s not likely the meeting between the two will produce a significant result, but it will help build trust between them.”

After he was elected party chairman on Wednesday, Ahn said he would propose Park as the new prime minister.

Prime Minister Chung Un-chan is waiting for the President’s decision after indicating his intention to resign over the failure of the Sejong City revision bill, which he strongly pushed.

In the interview, Ahn said he told Park he wanted her as prime minister, but Park declined.

Still, Ahn said, the position needs to be filled with a politician.

“The opposition parties will become more aggressive in the second part of the year,” said Ahn. “So strongly demand the appointment of a politician with ample experience in state affairs as new prime minister.”

By Ko Jung-ae, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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