WASHINGTON ― South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s first visit to the Pentagon on Thursday morning underscored her commitment to Seoul’s alliance with the U.S. before she sits down for a summit at the White House.
Park’s visit to the military superpower’s core defense organ was seen as a way to show off their bilateral ties and that they remain unshaken by growing concerns over Seoul inclining toward Beijing.
She is set to hold a summit with her U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on Friday to discuss ways to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambition and to bolster the alliance to a higher level.
On the eve of the much-anticipated summit, South Korea’s commander-in-chief received a full military honors parade hosted by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. She was given a 21-gun salute on the parade field in front of the Pentagon, before she inspected a guard of honor. Park was the second South Korean president to visit the Pentagon but was the first to receive such a large-scale ceremony, Cheong Wa Dae said.
At a closed bilateral meeting that followed, Park and Carter exchanged their views on security of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia and the delayed transfer of wartime operational control. Bilateral cooperation on cybersecurity and space sector were also discussed.
“I hope that South Korea and the U.S. will expand cooperation in a comprehensive and strategic” manner over the issue, Park said in a meeting with Carter.
Carter told Park the U.S. is ready to use all possible capabilities to maintain a war deterrent on the Korean peninsula and that he expects Seoul and Washington to closely cooperate in dealing with North Korea's provocations in the future.
South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se accompanied Park with Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert, Commander of U.S. forces Curtis Scaparrotti attending. After the meeting, they also met with U.S. and Korean service members to encourage and thank them for their service.
"You are the heart of South Korea-U.S. alliance," Park told the soldiers.
"Korea thanks you, we go together."
Later in the afternoon, the South Korean leader was invited to Naval Observatory, the residence of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden for an official lunch. They reaffirmed the solid alliance and discussed ways to forge fresh partnership for the future. North Korea’s nuclear weapon and its provocative actions were also on the agenda.
"The two discussed the importance of strong regional relations and close coordination on common strategic interests," the White House said after the meeting.
It also said Biden praised Park for her efforts to improve inter-Korean ties and reaffirmed unwavering U.S. commitment to deter and defend against North Korean provocations.
Park was the first Asian leader invited to the vice president’s residence since the Obama administration was launched in 2009, Cheong Wa Dae said in a briefing, adding that the lunch was an expression of the special alliance between the two countries.
Since arriving in Washington on Tuesday, Park has been seeking a fresh momentum in the alliance to wipe off growing fears about Seoul’s cozy relationship with Beijing after she attended a Chinese military parade shunned by most of Western leaders.
At a friendship dinner on Wednesday evening, Park stressed that South Korea is a reliable partner of the United States, calling the alliance a core of Washington’s rebalancing strategy toward the Asia-Pacific region.
“South Korea and the U.S. are strongly bound to each other by common values and ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights,” Park said at a South Korea-U.S. friendship gathering in Washington.
“The alliance has been evolving and is dynamic, and together we are moving toward a brighter future.”
Secretary of State John Kerry chimed in saying that the bilateral partnership focuses on shared values in a wide range of fields.
“We also recognize that ours has to be a dynamic partnership that focuses, as our citizens do, on issues of the future and particularly issues like clean energy, the need to address the challenge of climate change, and ensuring that we have smart rules in place to guarantee the preservation of open space and also a reliable and secure Internet,” he said in a speech at the gathering.
Kerry also thanked Park for showing her commitment to the future, referring to her visit to NASA’s Goddard Space Center. Cheong Wa Dae said Park hopes to expand cooperation with the U.S. in space industry, particularly on South Korea’s plan to develop a homegrown space rocket by 2020.
In a separate meeting Park also called for close cooperation in research and development and engineering, stressing that Seoul is seeking innovation in manufacturing.
“The two countries can build up the technology and experiences that can lead to manufacturing innovation if they combine technology and excellent manpower,” Park said at a forum held to promote a bilateral partnership in the high-tech industry.
Park also called for strengthened cooperation with the U.S. in space, new energy as well as health care and other high-tech areas.
“I hope that South Korea will actively participate in space development” by signing a deal with the U.S. on space cooperation, Park said.
Consultations are underway between the two sides over a space cooperation agreement, according to the presidential office.
By Cho Chung-un, Korea Herald correspondent (firstname.lastname@example.org)