Bush arrives in South Korea for North talks

 

President George W. Bush arrived in South Korea today for talks focused on North Korea.

Mr Bush and President Lee Myung-bak are likely to discuss progress in verifying North Korea's account of its nuclear weapons programme and their free trade deal, signed by the two governments last year but yet to be ratified by either's legislature.

While Pyongyang could be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism as early as August 11th, that would not happen until an agreement was reached on verification, a US official said.

Washington is Seoul's main ally and maintains a major military presence in the country to defend against any attack by the communist North.

Anti-government groups, who were behind two months of sometimes violent protests against a bilateral beef deal, have promised to take to the streets again to protest against Mr Bush's visit.

But the US president received a surprise boost when an estimated 15,000 people held a pro-US rally in the centre of the capital, a sharp contrast to months of mass demonstrations demanding the government ditch a deal to allow back imports of US beef.

A senior US official said the furore over beef, driven by fears of mad cow disease, had receded as an agenda item in the meeting with Mr Lee after the two sides reworked an April deal to open what was once the third-largest foreign market for the US product.

Mr Lee agreed to the beef imports in April during his first overseas trip after taking office. Mr Bush hosted him at Camp David, hoping the deal would lift a major barrier to the US Congress approving a free trade deal with Asia's fourth-largest

Analysts said ties between Seoul and Washington have improved under Mr Lee after cooling under his left-leaning predecessor, who was seen as too soft on North Korea.

Mr Bush's trip to Asia will take him to Bangkok tomorrow and then on to Beijing for the Olympic Games.

Reuters