South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress and was warmly received by both Democratic and Republican members of the House and the Senate. He stressed the strong economic ties the two countries share and the mutual defense alliance they forged 58 years ago to the day Thursday.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner introduced South Korean President Lee to a full chamber of enthusiastic lawmakers.
"Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and the distinct honor of presenting to you His Excellency Lee Myung Bak, President of the Republic of Korea," said Boehner.
The South Korean president was quick to thank both houses of Congress for passing a major trade agreement with South Korea Wednesday night, in a rare display of bipartisanship. He spoke through an interpreter.
"And I am particularly grateful to the leadership of both parties, and to all the esteemed members of Congress for their support in ratifying the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement last night, in a swift manner, in a swift manner that I am told is quite unprecedented," said Lee.
Congress also passed free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama that had been negotiated five years ago. President Lee cited experts he said predict that U.S. economic output will grow more from the free trade agreement with South Korea than with Americas' last nine free trade agreements combined.
The South Korean leader got a standing ovation when he thanked all those U.S. servicemen currently serving in South Korea, as well as all the veterans of the Korean War, including several current members of Congress.
Earlier in the day, Lee held a joint news conference with President Barack Obama, and both leaders agreed that they remain united in their approach to Communist North Korea. Lee said a united Korea would be a threat to no one.
"We therefore must achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. [Applause] And North Korea must give up their nuclear ambitions."
Lee spoke about his two siblings who died as children in the Korean War, and about the fact that he was imprisoned for his political activities for democracy in the 1960's. Over and over again, he stressed that South Korea and the United States share the same democratic ideals and aspirations for peace and stability.
On Friday, Lee is to accompany Obama on a visit to a General Motors car plant in the U.S. city of Detroit. Obama has said he would like to see Koreans driving U.S.-built cars the way many Americans drive Korean cars.