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US President-Elect Promises Stronger Alliance With South Korea


South Korea had its first real brush of contact with the incoming Obama administration Friday. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak spoke on the phone with his soon-to-be U.S. counterpart, President-elect Barack Obama. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

President-elect Barack Obama told South Korean President Lee Myung-bak Friday he has great admiration admiration for Korea and its people.

The two spoke on the phone Friday morning in Seoul, mostly in English without the aid of interpretation. President Lee's spokesman, Lee Dong-gwan, says the two vowed to cement their countries' alliance of more than half a century.

He says Mr. Obama assured Mr. Lee the U.S. and South Korea are already close, but hopes to further advance the relationship. A strengthened U.S.-South Korea alliance, said Mr. Obama, will lay a groundwork for peace and security in Asia.

The United States stations about 28,000 troops here in South Korea, to deter or defeat any repeat of North Korea's 1950 invasion.

Mr. Lee and Mr. Obama agreed to meet at the soonest possible opportunity. That could come as early as next week, when both plan to attend a Washington summit on the financial crisis hosted by President Bush.

President Lee's main political opponent says he is looking forward to an Obama administration. Chung Sye-kyun, chairman of South Korea's Democratic Party, says he finds Mr. Obama's victory "encouraging."

He recalls Mr. Obama's promise to be proactive in purusing dialogue with North Korea to resolve the issue of the North's nuclear weapons.

Chung and his party support a conciliatory policy toward the North, and have initiated most of the inter-Korean aid and cooperation projects of the past ten years. They are critical of both President Lee and President Bush for taking what they call a "hardline" approach toward Pyongyang.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, expected to be a senior foreign policy advisor to Mr. Obama, was in Seoul Friday, and was scheduled to meet with President Lee. He said there was no doubt in his mind Mr. Obama would have a "similar approach" to North Korea as the Bush administration. He says President Obama will likely adhere to a six-nation framework for addressing the nuclear issue, even though it is not perfect.

Diplomats from the United States and the two Koreas met late Thursday night in New York. Senior North Korean envoy Ri Gun offered reporters his own take on the American transition of power.

He says we have dealt with many U.S. administrations so far, including those that managed to hold talks with us and those that tried to isolate us. He says, we are ready to respond to any administration's North Korean policies.

Person Lee Myung-bak
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