Last month’s visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, coming on the heels of congressional passage of the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement, seemed to go very well, with Lee and President Obama getting along just splendidly.
Lee even went with Obama to Michigan, where they toured a General Motors plant and Lee, wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball hat, amiably took questions from the audience.
But we’re hearing — though some sources dispute this -- that some South Korean officials were not completely happy with the way Lee was treated at a few points during the visit.
When the South Korean leader alighted from his plane at Andrews Air Force Base he was greeted by protocol chief Capricia Marshall, State Department and other folks, which is the customary greeting party for such visits. “We don’t do airports,” a source said, adding that the big thing is the White House protico greeting and the big do on the South Lawn that Lee received.
But when Lee reviewed the military honor guard at Andrews he walked down the red carpet with his wife, Kim Yoon-ok.
In contrast, when Chinese Prime Minister Hu Jintao, our BFF (best frenemy, forever), arrived for his summit meeting with President Obama in January, Vice President Joe Biden himself schlepped out to Andrews to do the greeting routine and walked down the red carpet with Hu.
Apparently this was unusual, a State Department official told us, although former Vice Presient Al Gore also was dispatched to Andrews to greet Hu on a previous visit.
Well, let’s see. Hu has nukes and is our banker, Lee is just a big trading partner. So some disparity seems justified.
But then, at the White House state dinner, where the four-course menu was “conceived by” First Lady Michelle Obama and the White House chef, the special main course was Texas Wagyu — richly marbled beed similar to the famed Kobe, as in Japan. Koreans have their own ideas about beef, raising the Hanwoo variety.
And we know how close the Koreans and Japanese are, especially from World War II days.
But hey, Obama treated Lee to dinner the night efore at Woo Lae Oak, an excellent Korean restaurant in Tysons Corner and you don’t want to do Korean beef two nights in a row.