President Park Geun-hye, third from left, applauds at an event at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington to mark the 60th Anniversary of the South Korea-United States alliance. / Yonhap
By Kim Tae-gyu
WASHINTON ― President Park Geun-hye's visit to the United States, her first one as a state head, is an official working visit that lacks ceremonial pomp and diplomatic protocol compared to a state visit.
But that might not be the case this time around since the United States offers special treatment to the new leader, which Korean bureaucrats say is comparable to a state visit.
"We could feel that the U.S. paid extra attention to us from the beginning. First of all, their escort services have been comparable to those for a state visit," Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se said on Tuesday (local time).
"The U.S. also let Park stay in Blair House, which is typically not available for those who come to this nation on official working visits. In addition, the two leaders took a walk around 10 minutes without interpreters after the summit."
Another honor for Park is that the Congress asked her to deliver a speech to its joint meeting becoming the sixth Korean to do so as U.S. President Barack Obama points out.
"And tomorrow she'll address a joint session of Congress, an honor that is reserved for our closest friends," Obama said in the joint press conference after the summit.
Obama also praised Park's decision of opting for the United States as her first place to visit after her inauguration on Feb. 25.
"Madam President, We are greatly honored that you've chosen the United States as your first foreign visit," Obama said in the opening remark during the press conference.
"So again, thank you, President Park, for making the United States your first foreign visit. In your inaugural address, you celebrated the "can-do" spirit of the Korean people. That is a spirit we share," he said while closing his comments.
Yun said that such an atmosphere was felt throughout the summit.
"Obama said that there are many admirers of Park in his administration while starting the meeting. He also congratulated her on her victory in the election late last year," he said.
He added that Vice President Joe Biden waited for a long time for the end of the meeting to introduce one of his secretaries with Korean roots to the Korean President.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry could not make it to the meeting due to his visit to Russia but sent a hand-written letter to Park to excuse himself for being absent, according to Yun.
Experts point out that the U.S. offered this special treatment because Park is the first woman state head in Korea and this year marks the 60th anniversary of the two countries' alliance.
Meanwhile, President Park offered picture frames made of silver and Korea's traditional patterns, to President Obama and tableware, a silver spoon and chopsticks and a book on Korean food, called hansik, to First Lady Michelle Obama.