North Korea, FTA will dominate Obama summit

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North Korea, FTA will dominate Obama summit

Topping the agenda for the summit this week between U.S. President Barack Obama, on his first visit to Korea, and President Lee Myung-bak will be finding ways to break through the nuclear impasse with North Korea and the stalled ratification process for the free trade deal between Seoul and Washington.

But the most important topic will be North Korea and its nuclear arms program, a senior foreign affairs official at the Blue House said, noting that Lee’s “grand bargain” proposal will be discussed in detail between the two leaders at their summit.

Lee put forward the grand bargain for the six-party talks during his visit to the United Nations in September, proposing that Seoul, Beijing, Washington, Tokyo and Moscow present a package of solutions to be swapped for Pyongyang’s denuclearization.

“The two leaders had already talked about the grand bargain, and working-level discussions on the proposal have also followed,” the official said. “At the upcoming summit, the two leaders will have very close consultation on this matter.”

Efforts to ratify the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement will also be discussed, the official said. “Two years have already passed since Seoul and Washington signed the agreement, and we have high anticipation for a speedy ratification,” the official said.

The official said top trade policy makers of the two countries discussed the ratification of the deal on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit over the weekend in Singapore.

“Obama also said in Tokyo he will try to move forward the FTA,” the official said. “We know that the United States is willing to cooperate.”

The official said that discussions will also concentrate on the Korea-U.S. alliance and other global issues such as climate change and world economic problems, but Afghanistan would not be on the agenda, contrary to previous comments from White House aides.

“The deployment of Korean troops to Afghanistan is not something that requires the agreement of both countries,” the Blue House official said. “It’s something that we have made a decision about and have already announced. We can further inform the United States on this matter at a later date.”

Ahead of Obama’s departure for Asia last week, White House officials had said efforts to rebuild war-torn Afghanistan, one of the key foreign policy agenda items facing the Obama administration, will be addressed at the summit in Seoul.

The Lee administration said earlier this month that it has decided to increase the number of civilian workers from Korea helping to rebuild Afghanistan. A 300-strong military contingent will be dispatched to provide protection to the workers, the government has said.

Although the two presidents will address the press following the summit, no joint statement is expected, Blue House and Foreign Ministry officials have said.

This week’s summit is Lee’s third bilateral meeting with Obama. The two met on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in London in April, and Lee visited Washington in June.

Obama is expected to arrive in Korea late tomorrow evening and leave the country later Thursday, the official said.

By Ser Myo-ja []

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