Kang makes Washington rounds

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Kang makes Washington rounds

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha kicked off a three-day trip to Washington Thursday despite the abrupt departure of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meeting with congressional leaders to explain the outcome of discussions with North Korea and also address ongoing trade and steel tariff concerns.

Kang met with a group of dozen congressmen including Cory Gardner, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, and Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to discuss the recent engagement with North Korea, as well as bilateral security and economic issues.

Kang said that the South Korean and U.S. governments will continue close coordination for the success of an inter-Korean summit in April and a subsequent summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

She said these will “become significant milestones in terms of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and thereby to expedite the denuclearization and the establishment of a lasting peace on the Peninsula,” according to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement Friday.

Kang also noted that recent U.S. tariffs imposed on steel imports could have “unintended negative ramifications” on economic and trade ties and on the overall alliance between Korea and the United States, which she described as “closer and stronger than ever.”

She went onto request that the U.S. Congress cooperate actively toward exempting Korea from the tariffs. The congressmen said they will offer advice to the Trump administration to seek a solution to its restrictions on steel imports, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Kang said she hoped that ongoing negotiations about the revision of the Korea-U.S free trade agreement “will be concluded with mutually beneficial results.”

She expressed optimism that negotiations on renewing their bilateral cost-sharing pact, which kicked off earlier this month, “will produce a reasonable and mutually beneficial agreement.” The two sides are working on a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) for maintaining American troops in Korea after the current deal expires at the end of this year.

Kang also met with Paul Ryan, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and extended an invitation for him to visit Korea.

Kang had lunch with Ivanka Trump, senior adviser to her father President Donald Trump, following up their meeting last month in Korea. Trump led the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in Gangwon, where she met Kang several times.

The minister had initially planned to meet Tillerson on Friday to follow up on a South Korean special delegation’s trip to Washington last week.

But Tillerson was abruptly fired Tuesday by Trump and will be replaced by Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Tillerson officially leaves his post at the end of the month, but Kang will meet with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, acting secretary of state, on Friday. It has yet to be confirmed if she will meet with Pompeo.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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