Treated to friendly roadside crowds and an elaborate welcome, U.S. President Barack Obama sped into the last round of his diplomacy tour in Asia on Thursday, a visit in South Korea.
Mr. Obama joined South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the Blue House, where the U.S. leader took in spectacular views of the hills of Seoul on a chilly, gray morning. Mr. Obama stood on red-carpeted steps and looked out on military regiments in colourful garb and flag-waving children.
The leaders walked down to the sprawling manicured lawn, taking in the pageantry as Mr. Obama shook hands.
“This was the most spectacular ceremony for a state visit we have been involved with,” Mr. Obama gushed as the two leaders began their meetings. Said Mr. Lee of Mr. Obama’s Asia trip: “You saved the best for last.”
The two men were meeting privately before they were scheduled to make formal statements. In brief comments before reporters, Mr. Obama praised the success of the South Korean economy, saying it was one reason why the nation has become an important player on the world stage.
A stalled trade agreement, though, still looms as a concern for the economic powerhouses.
Mr. Obama, winding up his weeklong Asian journey, is expected to emphasize the two nations’ unified efforts to prod North Korea out of its nuclear weapons programme. He’s also welcoming South Korea’s return to helping U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama was embarking on perhaps the easiest leg of his whirlwind four-country Asian trip that has taken him away from Washington for the longest stretch of his presidency.
He made brief stops in Tokyo and Singapore before a longer, ceremony-filled visit to China.
After his talks, Mr. Obama then has a brief rally at Osan Air Base outside Seoul with some of the 28,500 U.S. troops who are stationed in South Korea. It will be the third time Mr. Obama has addressed U.S. troops with his decision still pending on how many more Americans to send into the Afghanistan war.
With that decision deferred until after the trip — “certainly before year’s end,” was the elastic timeframe Mr. Obama offered in an NBC News interview — the South Korean visit is an opportunity to highlight international cooperation. Mr. Lee’s government recently announced plans to expand a reconstruction team now helping to rebuild Afghanistan and to dispatch police and troops to protect them, two years after withdrawing all forces following a fatal hostage crisis.
Dozens of anti-war protesters rallied outside the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday chanting “no more South Korea troops to Afghanistan.” Later, though, more than 100 people waved U.S. and South Korean flags and yelled, “Welcome, Obama, U.S.A.”