South Korean leader heads to US for talks

In his first visit to the United States, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun left Sunday for a weeklong visit including a summit with President George W Bush.

    Diplomatic talks with the US
     will vary from  North Korea to
    US troops on South Korean soil

    But for Roh, it may prove to be his toughest diplomatic challenge yet. Roh will be on a mission to repair damage done to bilateral ties by North Korea's nuclear weapons drive, anti-US sentiment, and simmering trade friction.

    Roh is on his first official oversees trip since his inauguration in February and is being accompanied by at least 20 business leaders who will try to dispel fears over North Korea’s nuclear aspirations.

    The visit is being described as an important meeting between the countries as it could set the tone for future bilateral economic relations and could set a coordinated policy vis-à-vis North Korea.

    Policy change

    President Roh, who won his election with the assistance of anti-US sentiment in South Korea, and pledged to seek a “more balanced” relationship between Washington and Seoul.

    But he has recently shifted his views by calling for a continued strong military alliance.

    Roh said in a statement before his departure that he would cooperate closely with Bush on resolving the nuclear crisis peacefully.

    "I will do my best to make my visit to the United States a stepping stone to reaching such a solution," he said.

    In the past however, both countries have adopted difffering approaches over how to deal with North Korea. Roh has been against cutting off assistance to North Korea. However, President Bush recently shocked Roh by classifying North Korea as part of the "axis of evil."

    At talks with the United States and China in Beijing last month, North Korea offered to ditch its nuclear and missile programmes in return for significant economic and diplomatic benefits.

    The United States has so far declined to respond to what the North described as a "bold" proposal.

    The summit also plans to address the issue of the 37,000 US troops based in South Korea. This has been a highly contentious issue for many South Koreans.

    American troops were stationed in South Korea to deter North Korean and Chinese troops from attempting an invasion during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.


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