Washington sends support as Park’s visit delayed

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Washington sends support as Park’s visit delayed

Washington has expressed its hope to reschedule a visit by President Park Geun-hye, which was delayed due to the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and emphasized the importance of having a discussion on the future of the Korea-U.S. alliance and regional security issues.

“President Obama looks forward to welcoming President Park to the White House at a mutually convenient time,” Jeff Rathke, the director of the Press Office of the U.S. State Department, said on Wednesday. “And of course, that will be an opportunity to discuss the U.S.-Korea alliance and the critical role it plays in regional stability and security.”

The Blue House announced Wednesday that Park had postponed her trip to the United States, scheduled for next week, which included talks with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House. The decision, according to the presidential office, was made because Park wanted to stay in Korea to ease public health concerns surrounding the rapid spread of the virus.

During his recent visit to Seoul, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had wide-ranging talks focused on the Korea-U.S. alliance, regional issues including North Korea as well as the South’s growing role around the world, Rathke added.

“So we certainly look forward to the visit when it’s rescheduled,” he said.

Shortly after the announcement, the White House responded that Obama would welcome Park for a rescheduled summit.

The United States will also cooperate with Korea in its battle against the MERS outbreak, White House National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said, according to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

A U.S. congressman friendly to Korea also expressed hope that Park’s trip could be rescheduled.

“We understand that it was postponed and we understand why. Our hearts go out, our prayers are with the families,” said Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. “We understand the outbreak and that the head of state is dealing with that in South Korea right now.”

He also promised when Park visited Washington again, she would be received as warmly as she was on her first trip in May 2013.

Another lawmaker, Democrat Charles Rangel, sent a letter to Park extending his support.

“I know this is a very difficult time for the South Korean people and would like to send my deepest sympathy to the victims of this deadly virus. I express my utmost confidence in your ability to lead the people of your beautiful country out of this crisis,” he said.

In an interview Wednesday with the MBC radio, U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert remarked that Washington fully understood Park’s decision, stressing that the trip would be rescheduled soon.

In the interview, which aired Thursday, Lippert noted that in 2013, Obama postponed his trip to Asia, later rescheduling it, and praised its results, dismissing speculation that a delay would strain ties between Seoul and Washington.

When asked about a comment by Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel last month that Korea should speak out against China’s aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea, Lippert reiterated the Obama administration’s wish for Korea to play a bigger role in the region.

The U.S. ambassador added that historical issues concerning Korea and Japan are sensitive and affirmed that top officials in the U.S. government shared the understanding that it was a very important matter for the Korean people.

The United States, he said, wants Japan and Korea to make efforts toward peace and reconciliation.

Regarding Korea’s concerns over recently revised defense guidelines between Washington and Tokyo, which enable Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to cooperate with Washington “to respond to an armed attack against the United States or a third country,” Lippert stressed that the revision was made based on close consultation with Korea.

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