Obama Faces Test of Ties with Korea's New President

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With U.S. President Barack Obama winning re-election, no major changes are likely in relations with South Korea, but the bilateral cooperation could be tested by the outcome of next month's presidential vote here, analysts said Wednesday.

Relations between the allies have been arguably at their best state in nearly a decade. Reflecting the closeness, Obama declared the bilateral alliance "the lynchpin" for security in the Pacific region in 2010, describing South Korea as the most significant U.S. partner in the region.

At a 2009 summit, Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Obama agreed to transform the alliance's purpose from primarily defending against a North Korean attack to a regional and even global alliance, in which they cooperate on issues such as climate change and terrorism. Lee and Obama have also forged close policy coordination over how to handle North Korea.

Much of the current bilateral intimacy is due to Lee, whose single five-year term ends in February of next year. By law, a SKorean president cannot seek re-election.

As South Korea's leadership is set to change hands in coming months, the current lockstep cooperation between the allies is unlikely to be sustainable, particularly for the North Korea policy, if a liberal candidate wins the Dec. 19 presidential election.

"In terms of future relations between Korea and the U.S., what's more important is who will take the presidential office in Korea, rather than a foreign-policy direction by the Obama second term," said Chun Chae-sung, a professor of international relations at Seoul National University.

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