Summit to Tackle US Beef, N. Korea
By Kim Yon-se
President Lee Myung-bak is scheduled to hold a summit with U.S. President George W. Bush in mid-April. Though some observers want to highlight the first meeting between Presidents Lee and Bush and a confirmation of their alliance, the two leaders are destined to discuss two major pending issues ― dealing with North Korea and the free trade agreement (FTA).
Policies toward North Korea and the FTA's ratification are dependent upon the six-party talks and South Korea's full opening of its beef market to the U.S., respectively.
More specifically for the bilateral trade accord, the key point is whether Lee will make a verbal or document-based promise to Bush on the beef issue.
Lee, whose first target for overseas diplomacy is the U.S., will meet with Bush at Camp David, the U.S. presidential retreat, from April 18-19. Bush's presidency will end next January.
As Pyongyang has continued to express its uneasiness about the inter-Korean policy of Lee, who was inaugurated on Feb. 25, of prime concern is whether the two leaders will adopt a new coordinated stance over the North.
Possible tensions on the Korean Peninsula could be a burden for Bush, who is assumed to want an epoch-making diplomatic performance in Northeast Asia by leading North Korea to denuclearization.
Five years ago when former President Roh Moo-hyun vowed an engagement policy after taking office, neo-conservatives were the mainstream in the White House.
Efforts to resolve the nuclear crisis have been deadlocked for several months due to disputes over North Korea's alleged uranium-enrichment program and nuclear connection with Syria.
U.S. government officials expect Lee to be more cooperative in resolving the controversial commerce-related issues than his predecessor, Roh.
Some analysts of the CRS said many American observers worry that Chinese influence over South Korean policy is likely to rise at the expense of the U.S.
Considering the diplomatic philosophy of Lee, who puts priority on fostering closer relations with Washington, the possibility that Korea will smoothly accept additional, sensitive requests from the U.S. for early parliamentary ratification of the FTA, which was provisionally signed in June 2007, is high.
Though Roh promised that the Korean government would allow imports of U.S. beef irrespective of whether it contained bone or the age of the cattle in phone talks with Bush in March 2007 when the FTA negotiations were deadlocked, Roh stepped down without commenting on the promise to the public.
As more and more Koreans have become acquainted with the risks of mad cow disease, Lee's words on the U.S. beef issue will likely be closely watched.
The bilateral trade accord has yet to be ratified by the two countries' legislatures. Moreover, U.S. Democrats, including presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, have been calling for renegotiations for more gains in the beef and automobile sectors.
Other issues may include the visa waiver program (VWP) for South Koreans planning to visit the U.S.
South Korean officials say it may be able to start the program as early as late this year after the government starts issuing electronic passports, one of the requirements to apply for the program.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan returned home last week from his five-day visit to Washington, D.C. and New York City.
Yu is expected to unveil part of the summit agenda, arranged during his meeting with his U.S. counterpart Condoleezza Rice, as early as this week.
Following their meeting in Washington, Yu and Rice said they spent ``significant time'' discussing the six-party talks, the forum for negotiating the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
South and North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia are members of the forum, which over the last two-and-a-half years has struck agreements designed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.
The process has stalled, however, since the North missed the Dec. 31 deadline to submit a ``complete and correct'' declaration of its atomic stockpile and any proliferation activities, a critical interim step to dismantlement.
``The foreign ministers have had consultations on various ways to resume the six-way talks at an early date, in consideration of the U.S. domestic political situation such as the presidential election,'' a presidential aide said.
He said that consultations with concerned countries aimed at maintaining momentum in the nuclear talks are underway, adding Yu's recent visit to Beijing was part of it.
Apart from the issues of North Korea policies and the bilateral FTA, Yu is presumed to have proposed talks about the visa waiver program, the aide added.
Yu also met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The meeting was aimed at exchanging ideas on bolstering the alliance.
President Lee will also engage in sales diplomacy through meetings with American business leaders at a Korean road show in New York and a visit to the New York Stock Exchange.
He is scheduled to visit New York and Washington before holding the summit in Camp David.
The U.S. is regarding Lee's visit not as a state visit but for discussions. The same was true during a visit to the United States by Chinese President Hu Jintao, causing a backlash among Chinese officials.
Shuttle Diplomacy With Japan
On his way home from the United States, Lee will visit Tokyo for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on April 21.
Lee's spokesman, Lee Dong-kwan, said the two leaders will discuss ways to promote bilateral relations, resume shuttle diplomacy and strengthen bilateral cooperation in environmental, energy and other global issues.
They held a summit in Seoul on Feb. 25 after Lee was sworn in.
Minister Yu will visit Tokyo from April 3-6 to meet his Japanese counterpart Masahiko Komura. They will discuss the stalled nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea as well as the scheduled Lee-Fukuda summit.
South Korea-Japan relations have always been testy due to Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Lee has emphasized several times that his country and Japan should ``let bygones be bygones'' and build a future-oriented relationship. However, history-related resentment runs deep on both sides.
While Japan was led by right-winger Junichiro Koizumi and buoyed by public longing for a ``strong nation,'' South Korea was governed by liberal President Roh, who promoted ``independent'' diplomacy.
Lee urged that both South Korea and Japan have to form future-oriented relations with a pragmatic attitude.
He stressed the two countries need to inherit and embrace, not rupture. ``We must not just look at the dark corners of the past but inherit the bright sides and develop them.''
Tokyo normalized relations with Seoul in 1965 but has no diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.