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Obama may visit Seoul on April 25

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to visit South Korea on April 25 following a three-day visit to Japan as part of his Asia tour aimed at enhancing security cooperation with allies and America’s strategic engagement in the region.

Japanese media reported that Obama was set to arrive in Japan on April 23 for the first state visit by a U.S. president in 18 years. After his time in Japan, Obama is to travel to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Obama is likely to stay for two days in Seoul, observers said. Cheong Wa Dae said that it was still in consultation with the White House over the U.S. leader’s detailed schedule for Korea. 
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the White House on Tuesday. (AP-Yonhap)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the White House on Tuesday. (AP-Yonhap)

Obama’s initial itinerary for the Asia tour did not include Seoul. But the White House included South Korea in February amid concerns that it might feel slighted by the U.S. leader only visiting Japan. Seoul and Tokyo have been on bad terms due to worsening historical and territorial feuds.

According to reports, Tokyo has made strenuous efforts to persuade Obama to stay in Japan for at least three days as Obama’s time there was reportedly curtailed due to his trip to Seoul.

Analysts say that Obama’s top diplomatic priority is strengthening the three-way security cooperation with Seoul and Tokyo to counter North Korea’s military threats and keep a growingly assertive China in check.

“As we witnessed during the three-way summit (among leaders of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan) on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit, high on the agenda for Obama would be strengthening the trilateral security cooperation,” said Park Won-gon, security expert at Handong Global University.

Analysts said that also high on Obama’s diplomatic agenda is reiterating America’s security commitment to regional peace and stability, which has been called into question due to Washington’s continuing financial woes.

Obama originally planned to visit Asia last October, but his plan was canceled due to a partial government shutdown.

The cancellation sparked concerns over whether the financially strained U.S. could continue its so-called “rebalancing” policy toward the Asia-Pacific. After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has sought to “rebalance” its diplomatic and military assets to this economically vital region.

During his trip to Asia, Obama is also expected to focus on highlighting America’s will to safeguard international norms and law, which Washington argues have been damaged due to Russia’s recent annexation of the strategically crucial Crimea.

During the summit between President Park Geun-hye and Obama, they are likely to discuss how to bolster defense cooperation amid Pyongyang’s threats of another nuclear test. They are also expected to talk about the delay in the handover of wartime operational control and revision of a bilateral civilian nuclear pact.

In Japan, Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are to discuss the revision of their bilateral defense cooperation guidelines; the Trans Pacific Partnership, an envisioned free trade deal linking Pacific-rim states; and other security and economic issues.

By Song Sang-ho (