President Park’s Visit to Washington

The warm relationship between President Obama and President Park reflects the close ties between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and President Park’s four-day visit to the United States from October 13-16 was yet another demonstration of our two countries’ strong bond.  I was fortunate to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the summit.  President Park’s meeting with President Obama, lunch with Vice President Biden, visit to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and full military honors afforded at the Pentagon followed by a meeting with Secretary of Defense Carter and with some of the dedicated troops that keep our two countries safe all signify the depth of our strong ties and historic alliance. 

There were three main goals of the U.S.-ROK summit:  first, to build on the close personal relationship between our two leaders; second, to hold in-depth discussions on the North Korean nuclear issue; and third, to continue our work on global issues including the economy and the New Frontiers of Cooperation.  All three of these goals were achieved with great success. 

Presidents Obama and Park at the White House (AP photo)

On the interpersonal relationship, there were energetic exchanges between the two leaders, who have grown closer.  Terrific back-and-forth banter that was light and touching – but also deep and meaningful – showed the genuine warmth and respect that exists between them.  Presidents Obama and Park have a shared vision and held substantive talks, punctuating the summit with foundational issues. 

On North Korea, Presidents Obama and Park share the same vision, goals, and strategy, all of which were reaffirmed at the summit via the Joint Statement on North Korea.  Namely, the United States and Republic of Korea reaffirmed our commitment to the common goal of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea in a peaceful manner.  Our commitment to mutual defense and deterrence means that we have a joint security umbrella covering our two nations.  Through the Joint Statement, it remains clear that U.S. commitment to the defense of ROK is unwavering. In addition, we continue to stand with the international community in condemning North Korea’s human rights situation as documented in the 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry Report.  We strongly support reunification under a democratically elected government and free market economy that also respects the human rights of its people. 

In terms of the U.S.-ROK economic relationship, we are working to fully implement the bilateral KORUS Free Trade Agreement and to continue progress on a fair, transparent business environment.  Our two leaders continue to deepen consultations regarding Korea’s possible involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the United States reaffirmed that it welcomes the ROK’s interest in the agreement.  We are great partners who will continue to enhance our economic ties.  The ROK is now the United States’ sixth largest trading partner, and the United States is the ROK’s second largest trading partner – in 2014, total trade between our nations amounted to $114 billion.  

On the New Frontiers of Cooperation— global health, climate change, cyber, and space — we continue to make new strides in areas of increased saliency in the 21st century, as both the United States and Korea have expertise in areas of strategic importance that have upside potential for our countries.  We are advancing the Global Health Security Agenda that seeks to promote progress toward a world safe from biological threats.  Both countries have made strong financial and personnel contributions to combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and MERS in the ROK.  Another shared goal is to take ambitious action to address climate change, one of the greatest threats to the global economy.  On cyber issues, we remain committed to ensuring cyberspace remains open and secure, with a free flow of information.  We are making efforts to strengthen existing mechanisms of cooperation, including the U.S.-ROK Cyber Policy Consultations and the Cyber Cooperation Working Group between our militaries.   For space, we continue to advance our partnership in civil space cooperation, demonstrated by President Park’s visit to NASA’s Goddard center during her trip and by the joint framework agreement on space that we started to negotiate. 

President Park’s visit to the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA Goddard photo)

For me personally, I found some time to spend catching up with President Obama.  It was great to see him again, of course.  I also joined President Park’s lunch with Vice President Biden at his residence at the Naval Observatory.  It was great to ride with the Vice President to the lunch and discuss issues related to Northeast Asia. 

Great lunch hosted by Vice President Biden at his residence (Blue House photo)

I also visited the Pentagon, which was like old times.  I saw Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, an old friend, and we had good discussions.  It was also impressive to see the full honors parade that the Pentagon held for President Park.  In all the years I worked there, I never got the chance to see one, as they happen very rarely.  There was a 21-gun salute and the U.S. Army’s Old Guard fife and bugle corps played, which still dresses as it did in the time of the American Revolution.  The show of respect contained in this rare ceremony underscores the importance of the visit by President Park. 

President Park Geun-hye reviews American honor guard members at the Pentagon.
(Department of Defense photo)

After the summit, I walked around the south lawn of the White House with my good friend, Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff, and got to take a picture with him in the Rose Garden.  We were able to catch up on things personally and recap North East Asian issues and the U.S.-ROK relationship. 

With my good friend Denis McDonough at the White House Rose Garden

In sum, President Park’s visit came at an important and exciting time in the U.S.-ROK relationship.  Our two countries have never been closer.  We are reaching new levels of achievement on important issues both on the Peninsula and globally.  I’m glad to be a part of all of it!  Kachi kapshida!

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