On last stop of Asia tour, Obama targets Iran, North Korea
Obama addressed Iran and North Korea nuclear programs at Osan Air Base in South Korea. Obama also discussed free trade agreement with S. Korea President Lee.
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In return, Obama appeared to have won a measure of understanding from Lee on the delicate issue of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, negotiated before either of them became presidents of their countries but still in need of ratification by Congress.Skip to next paragraph
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Lee, standing beside Obama in a joint press conference after their summit in the Blue House, the center of presidential power here, expressed his willingness to talk over differences on the issue of South Korea's burgeoning motor vehicle exports.
He made no promises, but that remark was clearly an attempt to mollify the strong opposition of US motor-vehicle manufacturers to an agreement that they believe will open the floodgates to ever more Korean vehicles on the American market.
"We can talk, and I think we can talk again," said Lee, softening the tone of adamant opposition expressed by South Korean officials to reopening negotiations on a deal they regard as done.
North Korea looms large
That said, differences over the free trade agreement appeared relatively minor compared with the greater need to act in unison on North Korea. The tone of the visit contrasted with the rancor that bubbled at or near the surface for the 10 years before Lee took office in February of last year. Lee's two predecessors focused on reconciliation with North Korea while North Korea went on developing – and testing – nuclear devices.
No doubt at the urging of Lee's political organization, the conservative Grand National Party, several thousand people lined the route of Obama's motorcade to the Blue House where thousands had poured out daily for months last year to protest the opening of Korean markets to US beef. American officials and politicians from western states made clear that the beef market had to open up despite fears of "mad cow" disease if the free trade agreement was to have any chance at all.
None cheered louder, though, than the troops gathered here, representative of the 28,500 US troops in Korea.
"America's commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea has never been stronger," Obama told them, and "our alliance will never waver."
The troops cheered loudest, though, at his promise of more pay and benefits.
From "how he interacted" with the troops, said Marine Lance Cpl. James Itle, "he seemed like he would keep his word."