President Barack Obama and South
Korean President Park Geun Hye are seeking to demonstrate a
solid front in the face of threats from North Korea and broader
tensions in the region.
Park, 61, meets with Obama at the White House today, three
months into her presidency, as the U.S. and South Korea mark the
60th anniversary of their alliance. The two leaders will discuss
strategy toward North Korea under the regime of its new leader,
Kim Jong Un.
On the eve of her arrival in Washington, the first female
leader of South Korea signaled in an interview that she’ll take
a firm stance. If North Korea engages in any military
provocations, “We will make them pay,” she said.
“North Korea engages in provocations, threats,” Park said
in an interview with CBS News broadcast last night. “This is
followed by negotiations and assistance, and so we saw an
endless continuation of this vicious cycle, and it is time for
us to put an end to the cycle.”
“North Korea must change,” she said. “That is the only
way for survival.”
In addition to her meeting with Obama and a press
conference with the U.S. president, Park is scheduled to deliver
an address to Congress during her Washington visit. Those events
are intended to demonstrate to North Korea, China and other
nations how much the U.S. values the Korea relationship,
according to Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific
Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, a
policy center in Washington.
Park’s long-term goals, which may include Korean
unification and expanded ties with China, are “under the cloud
of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula and she cannot
afford any misstep,” he said.
Daniel Russel, senior director for Asian affairs on the
White House National Security Counsel, said the agenda for the
visit will “reflect the maturity and scope of U.S.-Korea
Russel declined to comment on a CNN report, attributed to
unnamed U.S. officials, that North Korea has removed two
missiles from launch position and whether that was a sign that
Kim’s regime was scaling back its aggressive stance.
It is “premature to make a judgment about whether the
North Korean provocation cycle is going up, down or zig-
zagging,” Russel said. “It will take some time to play out.”
For Obama, Park’s visit also is an opportunity to keep the
momentum going during a high point of relations between the U.S.
and its seventh biggest trading partner, and at a time the U.S.
is seeking participants in a multination Trans-Pacific
Partnership trade pact.
Obama’s rapport with Park’s predecessor Lee Myung-bak was
on display in sealing the U.S.-South Korea free trade accord
that went into effect 14 months ago.
“What I think this summit will really be about, in
addition to the issues, is building a relationship,” Victor Cha, senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, a Washington policy center, said in a
briefing last week.
“In a sense, she has big shoes to fill,” Cha said of
Park. Obama “really did like Lee Myung-bak, and so I think
there will be an effort to try to build or replicate, perhaps in
a different fashion, the same sort of personal relationship.”
The U.S. and Korea also are discussing civilian nuclear
policy, cost sharing for U.S. forces and a phase-out of combined
forces command set for 2015.
Park is accompanied by a delegation of Korean business
leaders. She traveled to Washington from New York, where she met
with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
Her itinerary in Washington also includes a dinner banquet
to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korea
alliance, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce luncheon and a May 8
address to Congress. She plans to visit Los Angeles later this
week before returning to Seoul.
The U.S.-South Korea free trade accord took effect in March
2012, five years after it was first agreed to by former
Presidents George W. Bush and Roh Moo Hyun.
Its ratification was held up in the U.S. over objections
from industry and labor groups on issues including access to the
Korean market for U.S. automakers Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor
Co. (F) and General Motors Co. (GM) and for farmers.
The Obama administration revived the talks and negotiated
new terms for tariffs on autos and farm exports.
It is the biggest trade accord since the North American
Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico that took effect in
1994, and the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated it
would add about $10 billion to annual merchandise exports to
South Korea was the seventh biggest U.S. trading partner in
2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, with exports and
imports totaling $101 billion.
The U.S. trade deficit with South Korea was $1.3 billion in
March, compared with $551 million a year earlier, according to
figures from the U.S. Census bureau. The value of U.S. exports
to South Korea in March declined to $3.85 billion from $4.2
billion at the same time last year.
The South Korean won has depreciated in value against the
U.S. dollar by 3.9 percent over the past year from 1138.50 on
May 7, 2012, to 1094.48 yesterday.