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Lee invited to address US Congress

Korea Times, Seoul

Lee invited to address US Congress

By Park Si-soo

9 October 2011

President Lee Myung-bak’s upcoming state visit to the United States is expected to receive a warmer reception than ever before ahead of the impending endorsement of a free trade agreement (KORUS FTA) between the two countries.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner Friday extended a formal invitation for Lee to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington on Oct. 13, the same day as his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House.

The next day, he will travel with Obama to Detroit and Michigan, the center of the U.S. auto industry, to highlight the benefits of the pending KORUS FTA, officials said.

“It would be an honor to have President Lee, a steadfast friend of the American people, address the United States Congress,” Boehner said in a statement, citing the importance of the Seoul-Washington alliance.

He underscored that the people of America and South Korea “share deep ties rooted in history and common values.”

“The Republic of Korea has been a strong ally and partner in promoting democracy, advancing economic freedom, and combating nuclear proliferation,” he added.

Lee will be the first Korean president to address the U.S. Congress in 13 years since the late President Kim Dae-jung in 1998. Only five heads of state have been given the opportunity since the inception of the Obama administration in 2009, officials said.

The three high-profile events — the summit, congressional speech and joint trip — will be held amid high expectations of congressional approval of the bilateral trade deal before or during Lee’s visit to the U.S.

Congress is set to approve the deal, along with two other FTAs with Colombia and Panama, this week, according to U.S. media.

Korea’s Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon also presented a bright prospect last week for the final endorsement in the U.S. which he said will likely be made before the Lee-Obama submit on Oct. 13.

Michael Green, a senior researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said Lee’s speech, with the issue unsolved, will put additional pressure on U.S. lawmakers to pass the bilateral trade bill quickly.

Korea is also stepping up efforts to endorse its parts of the agreement.

The ruling Grand National Party has pledged to approve the KORUS FTA “by the end of the month at the latest,” while keeping pace with Washington.

The main opposition Democratic Party has opposed it on fears of possible damage to domestic agriculture and fishery industries, seeking further negotiations with the U.S.

The government has made it clear that there will be none.

If both Korea and the U.S. endorse the deal within this month, the two countries will remove tariff barriers in phases beginning January 2012.