Some urging Park to delay U.S. visit

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Some urging Park to delay U.S. visit

President Park Geun-hye has faced increasing pressure to reschedule her visit to the United States amid the rapid spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), though the Blue House said Tuesday that it currently has no plan to postpone her trip.

Lawmakers from both the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) have urged the president to postpone her trip. Park is scheduled to leave for Washington on Sunday to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama. She will then visit Houston, Texas on June 17 and 18.

“If the MERS issue spreads further, then [delaying the presidential trip] must be considered,” Rep. Lee Myoung-su, who heads the Saenuri Party’s special committee to counter MERS, said in an interview with YTN radio.

Another Saenuri lawmaker, Ha Tae-keung, also said Monday that it is time for the Blue House to seriously think about postponing her visit.

“The president must demonstrate dedication to eradicating MERS from Korea to assure the public,” he said.

Top Saenuri lawmakers said it was up to the Blue House to make the decision, though its chairman, Kim Moo-sung, nudged the president to reconsider.

“I believe the presidential office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are collecting opinions from various sectors on this issue,” Kim said.

The NPAD, on the other hand, directly pressured Park to delay the trip.

In an interview with CBS radio, Rep. Park Jie-won, the NPAD’s former floor leader, called on the president to stay in the country to tackle MERS.

“Let’s say next week is the peak,” Park said. “Will the president feel easy taking the trip? Diplomacy is important, but the public is anxious, particularly because of the government’s shortcomings. It’s ideal for the president to cancel or delay her visit.”

NPAD lawmaker Baek Kun-ki added, “It’s like a mother leaving sick children alone at home.”

However, NPAD floor leader, Rep. Lee Jong-kul, said the president must stick with her schedule. In his interview with YTN radio, he said the relationship with the United States, Korea’s main ally, was extremely important.

“If it were her nature to share the people’s pain, why would anyone protest her trip?” Lee said. “The people are upset because terrible, painful things such as the [political payoff] scandal involving late businessman Sung Wan-jong … and the Sewol ferry disaster took place in time with her trips overseas.”

Lee said, there are a number of sensitive issues that must be discussed with the United States during the upcoming trip, including the controversy surrounding the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile defense system potentially being deployed on the Korean Peninsula. “If Park can demonstrate sincerity in sharing the people’s pain, it will make no difference whether she goes to the United States or stays here. The public will understand.”

Asked if the Blue House has any plans to reschedule the trip, Min Kyung-wook, Park’s spokesman, said there was nothing special about her trip on which to brief the press.

Park has been previously criticized for leaving the country at inopportune times. She traveled to Latin America on the anniversary of the Sewol disaster, and amid a snowballing corruption scandal involving her top aides, including the prime minister.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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