Fred Hiatt interviews South Korean President Lee Myung-bak

Monday, April 12, 2010

Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt interviewed President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul on April 7. A translation and transcript of President Lee's remarks were provided by his staff:

Q: What do you hope to accomplish on your trip to Washington?

A: I think President Obama convening the very first nuclear summit meeting in Washington, D.C., is very significant. . . . I believe it's going to contribute a lot to bringing about global security and safety, especially [as] we are all concerned about the development of, let's say, small, suitcase-sized nuclear weapons, because the threat is very real that these materials or weapons can proliferate to terrorist organizations or rogue states, so to speak. So the threat is real and I think President Obama's nuclear security summit will reaffirm to people around the world of this danger. For us, this security summit is going to contribute a lot, in terms of preventing the real threat that we face. In terms of North Korea, with Iran, and I think it may go a long [way] in preventing such states from wanting to acquire nuclear weapons capability.

Why would such a summit affect Iran's or North Korea's behavior?

There will be 47 heads of state and government taking part in next week's nuclear security summit, and we're all there because we want to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and as well as materials and weapons. And I think the biggest contribution that this summit will do in terms of preventing countries like North Korea and Iran from acquiring weapons is that now there's a new understanding of the great threat that this issue is toward the global community. And that it will once again revive the international community's commitment and coordination and cooperation to achieve this goal.

You had some concerns that President Obama's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) might weaken the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea?

We carefully looked over the NPR report that was released recently and it stipulates that the United States won't be using nuclear weapons against states that abide by the NPT. However, they made an exception for countries like North Korea and Iran so we have no doubts about the reassurance of a nuclear umbrella to South Korea. Also I had a chance to speak with President Obama over the telephone a couple of days ago. We talked about a lot of issues and one of them was that President Obama -- and this was before the release of the NPR -- he once again reassured me personally that there will be no changes to the nuclear umbrella provided by the United States to South Korea.

What is the state of U.S.-Korean relations?

We enjoy an excellent relationship with the United States in my opinion and, most of all, the mutual trust that we have toward each other is great and very deep. And I'd like to attach a lot of significance to that. In the past the alliance that Korea and the United States had was largely confined to security issues here on the Korean Peninsula, but now we've managed to really expand that to make it more comprehensive. Last year when I had my announcement for a summit meeting in Washington, D.C., we announced what we called [a] "Future Vision of the Alliance" between Korea and the United States. If you look at this document, it stipulates that not only will the United States and Korea work toward the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, but also they'll work toward bringing stability to Northeast Asia and beyond, and that the United States and Korea will work together to really tackle global issues that we both think are very important. So as you can see, the alliance now has gone into the phase where we, of course, will talk about security issues, but also we will work to expand and strengthen mutual economic cooperation but also work together to resolve global issues like climate change, stopping the spread of nuclear materials, eradicating terrorism, poverty and so forth. So you can see that [the] relationship between Korea and the United States has become much more comprehensive and holistic. And for this, I think it's safe to say that the Americans also feel the same way, that this relationship has really grown compared to the past.

It's been said that you have among the best relationships with President Obama of any Asian leader.

Well, thank you. Let me just say that we welcome the return of the United States resuming its global leadership role and for that President Obama must really be commended for his efforts to reengage with the world. And when it comes to Asia, the American government and President Obama have shown their commitment and resolve to reengage with the Asian partners. And I'm just very happy to be working together with him here in Asia and with him in the United States, so that we could work together to really further strengthen this vital partnership.

How does the proposed Korea-U.S. Free Trade agreement (KORUS-FTA) fit into that?

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