United States, South Korea Will Review, Reaffirm Alliance

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun will discuss a variety of issues and reaffirm their countries' bilateral alliance during Roh’s two-day visit to Washington September 13-14.

Roh's schedule includes talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, as well as a stop at Capitol Hill to meet with U.S. congressional leaders on September 13.  Roh will meet with President Bush at the White House September 14.

In a background briefing September 12 at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, a senior U.S. official said this will be the sixth meeting between the two leaders.

“There have been many, many achievements in this alliance during the presidencies of these two leaders," the official said.  "Whether you’re talking about commitments in Iraq, the global War on Terror, [realignment of U.S. forces in Korea], reducing troop levels, base relocation - there are a lot of good things that one can point to in terms of the alliance.”

High on the agenda for the Roh-Bush meeting is the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, which, among other things, would establish time frames for the phase-out of tariffs on agricultural and industrial goods, textiles and pharmaceuticals.  (See related article.)

South Korea is a major economic partner for the United States.  In 2004, two-way trade between the countries was more than $70 billion, making South Korea the United States' seventh-largest trading partner and its seventh-largest export market.


Another priority topic will be the Six-Party Talks aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. The talks involve the United States, North and South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

After intensive negotiations, Pyongyang signed a joint statement of principles on September 19, 2005, making a commitment to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, to return to the nonproliferation treaty on nuclear weapons and to reinstate safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency.  (See related article.)

A subsequent round of talks in November 2005 ended inconclusively, and since that time the North Korean regime has refused to return to the table to discuss implementation.

“We don’t believe the talks have failed,” the senior official said, adding that the White House remains committed.  "I think every party remains committed to the talks, and now it's incumbent on the North to come back."

Pyongyang’s decision to test launch seven missiles in July, however, was seen as “a threat and a real provocation,” the U.S. official said.  The tests included several Scud-type and Nodong short- to medium-range missiles capable of reaching Japan and a Taepodong-2 long-range missile believed capable of reaching U.S. soil in Alaska. (See related article.)

The official said the missile tests triggered the U.N. Security Council unanimously to adopt Resolution 1695.  The resolution demands that North Korea suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program, requires U.N. member states to refrain from trading with North Korea on missile-related goods and technology, and urges North Korea to return immediately and without preconditions to the Six-Party Talks.  (See related article.)

As part of the evolving military relationship between the United States and South Korea, the official said, the two countries have been working on a "road map" laying out plans to transfer wartime command of South Korea's armed forces back to Seoul.  Asked about a potential timetable for the transfer, the official acknowledged that the issue has been “hugely controversial" in South Korea.

Nonetheless, the topic will not generate specific discussion between Bush and Roh, the official said, adding that military officials and commanders on the ground would discuss terms for an agreement.

"This is something that the Department of Defense and the Ministry of National Defense will work out and there will be a meeting in October in which these sorts of issues will be discussed," the official said. 

A joint statement is not anticipated from this meeting between Roh and Bush, the official said, noting that a statement released following the November 17, 2005, meeting between the two leaders in Gyeongju, South Korea, remains “the definitive statement” for bilateral relations.  (See related article.)

For more on U.S. policy, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.

A transcript of the briefing is available on the State Department's Web site.