South Korea’s Park Sees U.S. Ties as Key in Facing North

South Korean President Park Geun Hye called for expanding security and economic ties with the U.S. as the two allies stand together against threats from North Korea.

North Korea’s actions, including development of nuclear and missile arsenals, undermine security on the Korean peninsula and will be “met decisively,” she said in an address yesterday to U.S. lawmakers. A strong South Korean government “backed by the might of our alliance” ensures that “no North Korean provocation can succeed,” Park said.

“The Republic of Korea will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea,” she said.

Park’s speech at a joint meeting of Congress followed talks the previous day with President Barack Obama, in which the two leaders sought to demonstrate unity between the U.S. and South Korea in response to North Korean belligerence. Obama said May 7 the longtime allies are “as united as ever.”

Park, three months into her presidency, is making her first trip abroad to mark the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korean alliance as two nations also seek to expand cooperation on trade and energy as well as security.

Park told lawmakers yesterday there has been a historical pattern in which North Korea threatens South Korea and, after a period of international sanctions, nations try “to patch things up” by offering “concessions and rewards” to the Pyongyang government. In the meantime, North Korea continues to advance its nuclear-weapons capabilities, she said.

World powers must stop responding to periodic North Korean belligerence with actions that reward such behavior and create uncertainty, she said.

‘Vicious Circle’

“It’s time to put an end to this vicious circle,” she said, drawing a standing ovation from lawmakers.

Later, Park told a business luncheon that the U.S. and South Korea should deepen economic ties.

“Korea is firmly committed to free trade, to economic openness, for creativity can never thrive in a closed economy,” she said at the event sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. “We will make the Korea-U.S. alliance even stronger.”

Speaking in the U.S. House chamber, Park thanked the U.S. for its support in the Korean War, singling out for recognition four U.S. lawmakers who are veterans of that conflict, and stressed the importance that South Korea places on the current alliance in the face of security challenges.

South Korea is maintaining the “highest level of readiness” and responding to North Korea’s threats “resolutely but calmly,” she said.

Stable Markets

“Korea’s economy and financial markets remain stable,” she said. “Companies both domestic and foreign see this and are expanding their investments. Korea’s economic fundamentals are strong, its government is equal to the test, and it is backed by the might of our alliance.”

Park said she will work on building trust with North Korea since “I am confident that trust is the path to peace” and eventual reunification. Still, she said North Korea needs to give up its nascent nuclear arsenal and become a “responsible member” of the international community.

“Pyongyang’s provocations will be met decisively,” she said. “At the same time, I will not link humanitarian aid to the North Korean people, such as infants and young children, to the political situation.”

Park proposed that the U.S. and northeast Asian nations establish multilateral dialogues on topics such as environmental challenges, disaster relief, nuclear safety and counterterrorism to which North Korea could be invited as a step toward finding “common ground.”

Unpredictable Regime

A day earlier, Obama and Park said North Korea’s regime is too unpredictable to know whether dictator Kim Jong Un is ready to ratchet down tensions.

Both leaders vowed that Kim won’t be allowed to wring concessions from nations by making threats. Obama also warned that the U.S. is ready to back its allies in any military confrontation.

On other matters, Park repeated her call for a “modernized successor” to the existing civilian nuclear cooperation accord with the U.S. South Korea wants to be able to process uranium for reactor fuel and to reprocess spent fuel, measures that are complicated diplomatically by proliferation concerns and efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons development.

‘Economic Pillar’

She also called for expanding trade and for Congress to adopt legislation that would ease visa limits for South Koreans. The U.S.-Korea free trade agreement, which went into effect in March 2012, “adds an economic pillar to our alliance,” she told lawmakers.

South Korea was the seventh biggest U.S. trading partner in 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, with exports and imports totaling $101 billion.

The U.S. trade deficit with South Korea was $1.3 billion in March, compared with $551 million a year earlier, according to figures from the U.S. Census bureau. The value of U.S. exports to South Korea in March declined to $3.85 billion from $4.2 billion at the same time last year.

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