By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 2, 2009 – South Korea is a vital ally and firm friend of the United States, President Barack Obama said today while attending the Group of 20 international economic conference in London.
Officially known as the Republic of Korea, South Korea “is one of America’s closest allies and greatest friends,” Obama told reporters just before he met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
And, under Lee’s leadership, Obama said, the friendship between the United States and South Korea “has only grown stronger.”
The annual G-20 economic summit is a venue for consultation on the global financial system. It features participation by the world’s 19 largest economies, plus the European Union.
South Korea has the fourth largest economy in Asia and boasts one of the world’s fastest-growing advanced economic systems.
The United States, Obama said, is keen to discuss issues related to the current global economic downturn at the London conference.
Yet, there are other important issues at hand, Obama said before meeting with Lee, including the topics of defense, peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, South Korea’s contributions in Afghanistan, and it’s global leadership role on climate change.
Afterward, a senior U.S. administration official told reporters that the two chief executives enjoyed a “warm meeting,” and that Obama invited Lee to visit him in Washington in June.
There also “was a fair amount of discussion of the North Korean issue,” the official said. North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, recently announced its intent to test-launch another ballistic missile within the next few days.
A North Korean missile launch would be a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, the U.S. official said, noting that the United States and South Korea would consult closely about how to respond firmly at the U.N. if the launch occurs.
Meanwhile, the official said, there is a “general expectation” that the North Koreans will proceed with the launch.
“But, we have been making maximum efforts to try to dissuade them, and still hope that they may change their minds,” the U.S. official added.
Obama and Lee also had discussed ongoing efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, the official said. North Korea, according to the official, would not be able to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea.
Obama praised Lee’s “calm resolve and restraint and steadfastness” in the face of North Korea’s recent actions, the U.S. official said.
North Korea invaded U.S. ally South Korea in June 1950. The ensuing Korean War, in which United States and U.N. combat troops deployed to the Korean peninsula to drive out the North Koreans, eventually brought the People’s Republic of China into the conflict on the side of the North Koreans. A truce was signed in 1953.