S. Korean President, Obama to hold summit in October

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President Lee Myung-bak will make a state visit to the United States in mid-October for a summit with his U.S. counterpart President Barack Obama, Cheong Wa Dae said Wednesday.

Lee will be the fifth foreign leader to meet with Obama on a state visit following leaders from Germany, China, Mexico and India.

The forthcoming summit slated for Oct. 13 will also be the sixth between the two leaders since the U.S. President took office.

In a statement, the presidential office said the two leaders will discuss economic cooperation, including the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA), and regional and global partnerships between the two countries.

Some commentators have speculated that the U.S. Congress may complete the ratification of the trade accord before the two leaders meet so Obama can announce it during the summit.

But a high-ranking official didn’t confirm the speculation. Asking for anonymity, he said, “Although the trade pact is significant, the presidential visit is not directly linked to the timing of the ratification of the pact in the United States.”

Rather, the official noted the upcoming Lee-Obama summit will highlight the strong alliance and partnership between the two nations.

The free trade pact is pending ratification by lawmakers from both countries, which will be followed by Lee and Obama signing it into law.

On the U.S. side, analysts here say a major stumbling block has been removed and thus it is a matter of time before the deal is approved.

Meanwhile, the prospect for ratification on the Korean side is murkier because of a rift between the ruling and opposition parties over the trade accord.

Opposition parties, including the main opposition Democratic Party, demand that negotiators of the two sides sit down again to alter parts related to the agriculture industry as farmers, along with services sector workers, are likely to be hit hardest.

But the ruling Grand National Party dismissed the call, saying “enough is enough,” showing no signs of pushing the government to renegotiate the deal.

Some analysts here say the atmosphere in the National Assembly will change if the U.S. Congress ratifies it. They say opposition parties in Korea will feel mounting pressure if this happens, considering that the domestic economy is heavily reliant on trade.

Besides trade, North Korea is also expected to top the agenda during the Lee-Obama summit.

All eyes are on whether the two leaders will make any significant announcement on the North after the summit.

Earlier, President Lee responded positively to a gas pipeline project connecting the two Koreas and Russia.

In recent talks with experts televised nationwide before the Chuseok holiday, President Lee said it was obviously a good thing.

He said progress in the project will come easier than expected.

During talks held in August, leaders of North Korea and Russia reportedly agreed to cooperate on the pipeline project.