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Lee to make state visit to U.S. next month

President Lee Myung-bak will make an official state visit to the United States next month for talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, Cheong Wa Dae said Wednesday, upping pressure on the parliament to ratify the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.

Lee is scheduled to hold summit talks with Obama on Oct. 13 in Washington to exchange views on bilateral economic cooperation such as the FTA and North Korea policy, Cheong Wa Dae said in a press release Wednesday.

Concerning speculation that the trip was linked to major progress in getting parliamentary ratification of the KORUS FTA, signed in 2007 and modified last year, Cheong Wa Dae officials said next month’s visit will be made regardless of the FTA ratification. The main opposition Democratic Party insists the pact should be renegotiated, calling the revisions unfair.

Noting that Lee will be the fifth head of state to make an official state visit to the U.S. under the Obama administration, the presidential office said in a press release that the trip is expected to serve as “an important opportunity for Korea and U.S. to strengthen their alliance as a strategic asset for both sides.”

Lee may also give a speech to the U.S. Congress during his visit, a Cheong Wa Dae official said, adding that the schedule was yet to be finalized.

Also high on the agenda is the two countries’ policy coordination on North Korea’s nuclear program, resumption of the six-party talks as well as political developments in Pyongyang including an ongoing hereditary leadership transfer.

The impoverished North has set next year as its deadline to become a “strong and prosperous nation.” South Korea, the U.S. and China will elect new presidents in the same year.

Other issues of mutual concern for Seoul and Washington include changes in Northeast Asia epitomized by the rise of China as a major global power and the nuclear disaster in Japan, as well as cooperation on other regional matters such as the democratization movements in North Africa.

Lee’s state visit to the U.S. will come less than three weeks after his trip to New York and Seattle next week.

Lee is set to deliver keynote speeches at the U.N. General Assembly and a high-level nuclear security meeting in New York and meet with Korean residents in Seattle next week.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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