The Korea Times
By Jung Sung-ki, Staff Reporter
June 16, 2009

President Lee Myung-bak asked the United States, Monday, to quickly ratify the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) signed in 2007 that has been languishing in legislatures in Seoul and Washington.

In a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ronald Kirk, Lee said the FTA would significantly benefit both countries and help strengthen their half-century-old alliance.

Noting that economic and trade relations between South Korea and the United States have steadily improved over the years, the President asked for Kirk’s active efforts to produce progress that is acceptable to both sides, a spokesman of Lee was quoted by Yonhap News Agency as saying.

Lee arrived early Monday on a three-day visit, including a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday (local time).

The trade deal was signed in June 2007 during the previous administrations of the two countries. Seoul wants to quickly move ahead with the ratification of the agreement, but the Obama administration has been somewhat reluctant to do so, citing possible damages to U.S. businesses, especially the auto industry.

President Lee also called for U.S. efforts to fight trade protectionism, which was one of the actions agreed upon at the G-20 summit in April to counter the global recession, said the spokesman.

Kirk noted Lee’s efforts to fight the global economic crisis and said the U.S. will work to meet the South Korean President’s expectations, he said.

President Lee later met with Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner and discussed ways to form a joint front against the financial crisis and growing protectionist trends. He also held separate talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Measures for North Korea’s Threat

Lee and Clinton called on North Korea to immediately halt its inciting actions, saying that ` `bad behavior” will not be tolerated or rewarded.

Pyongyang threatened to restart its nuclear weapons program last week, refusing to recognize or abide by a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned its nuclear test conducted May 25.

Clinton made it clear that North Korea must understand that bad behavior will always bring bad consequences. She also stressed the need for strong cooperation between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, according to the spokesman.

President Lee said, “As long as the United States and its allies maintain a firm stance, North Korea’s belief that it will be rewarded for its bad behavior if it waits long enough will dissipate.”

Lee also called for increased cooperation with Japan, China and Russia in dealing with North Korea’s provocative actions.

Clinton reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the joint defense of South Korea while expressing hope that the expansion of cooperation between the two allies will further contribute to peace and stability in Northeast Asia, the spokesman said.

President Lee and Defense Secretary Gates discussed ways of further strengthening the combined forces posture against any North Korean provocation.

Gates reaffirmed that the U.S. military would provide “extended deterrence” capabilities to South Korea against the lingering missile and nuclear threats by Pyongyang.

Lee said it was important for the countries to “institutionalize” steps to fight protectionism and toxic financial assets, which caused the ongoing financial meltdown and will cause further harm if not immediately dealt with, according to his spokesman.