Lee bringing defense chief to DC summit

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Lee bringing defense chief to DC summit

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin will accompany President Lee Myung-bak on his upcoming visit to the U.S. for a Seoul-Washington summit slated for Oct. 13-14, an official from the Ministry of National Defense told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

It will mark the first time that the defense minister will join the president on an overseas trip since the Chun Doo-hwan administration.

“The custom was that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accompanies the president on overseas trips while the defense minister remains in the country,” the official said. The defense minister stayed behind in case there was any military emergency.

President Lee Myung-bak took Kim Tae-young, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to the U.S. in April 2008 on his first visit to the U.S. after taking office.

One exception to the custom, the officials said, was when President Roh Moo-hyun took Kim Jang-soo, then Defense Minister, to Pyongyang for an inter-Korean summit in October 2007.

According to a senior Blue House official, the defense minister’s slot on this trip is intended to demonstrate the depth of the alliance between South Korea and the U.S.

“Given the current North Korean political situation and the changes in dynamics among the countries surrounding the Korean Peninsula, the most important thing is the ROK-U.S. alliance,” the Blue House official said. “And this summit between President Lee Myung-bak and President Barack Obama carries the significance of opening a new chapter in the security situation on the Korean Peninsula. When the two leaders meet to discuss such issues, it is appropriate the defense ministers of the two countries also attend it.”

Another government official said no schedule has been fixed for bilateral talks between Kim and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during the visit, although the two will meet during the summit.

Kim’s trip is also made possible under Seoul’s boosting of the commanding position of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Blue House official said.

By Kim Su-jeong [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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