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S. Korean President Leaves For Summits Aimed At Better Ties With US, Japan


South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has departed South Korea for a week of summit diplomacy aimed at turning a new page in ties with Japan and the United States. Lee administration officials say the president is particularly hoping to repair Seoul's relationship with Washington. VOA's Kurt Achin in Seoul reports.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo told reporters Monday in Seoul that President Lee Myung-bak's summit trip to Washington is about "re-energizing" and "reconsolidating" the alliance between the two countries. He also cautioned North Korea not to attempt to exclude South Korea from any deal aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons programs.

"Our relationship with the United States is very strong," he said. "We've been allies for many, many years. So going to the United States over the shoulder of the Republic of Korea [South Korea] will not succeed."

Han's words echoed those of President Lee himself, who held a nationally televised news conference Sunday before departing Monday for the United States. Mr. Lee says North Korea will be a key topic in his talks with President Bush at the Camp David retreat in Maryland. He says compared to previous South Korean administrations, his government will be more active in closely coordinating policy on North Korea with the United States.

North Korea invaded the South in 1950 - five years after the U.S. liberated the Korean peninsula from Japanese rule. The United States deploys about 28,000 forces here to uphold a 1953 North-South armistice and to deter a repeat invasion.

Some experts have criticized Mr. Lee's two most recent predecessors for seeking engagement and peaceful economic cooperation with the North at the expense of the alliance with the United States. The North tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006, an event some say was made easier by the relatively uncritical transfers of billions of dollars worth of aid and investment from the South.

President Lee - a conservative former corporate chairman - says the South will continue to help the North, but only if Pyongyang cooperates on getting rid of its nuclear weapons.He says South Korea will persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program through ongoing six-nation diplomacy, and that the North must come to realize that ending its nuclear programs will be beneficial.

North Korea is now nearly five months overdue in providing a declaration of its nuclear activities that it promised to produce by the end of last year.

A recent U.S. - North Korea meeting in Singapore has fostered hope a breakthrough may be near. South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan says he hopes the negotiations can get back to a brisk pace.

He says South Korea believes the multinational nuclear diplomacy needs to resume by next month, and that the six nations should ideally sign a new phase of a disarmament agreement by August.

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