South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visits the White House Thursday, buoyed by U.S. approval of a free-trade deal that is expected to be worth billions of dollars to both countries' economies.
Later Thursday, Lee will enjoy the rare honor of addressing a joint session of Congress, reflecting the growing economic and strategic importance of relations between the countries. The day concludes with a state dinner at the White House.
South Korean media said Thursday's White House summit will focus on how to deter North Korean aggression and how to help Libya after the overthrow of former leader Moammar Gadhafi. The reports say a joint statement prepared for release after the meeting proclaims the bilateral relationship as the linchpin for security in the Pacific region.
Lee was dining with President Barack Obama at a Korean barbecue restaurant outside Washington when they received word late Wednesday that the U.S. Congress had approved the trade deal. The South Korean president now faces intense pressure to get approval of the agreement through his own country's legislature.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, Cho Byung-jae, said in Seoul that the National Assembly has had ample time to debate the trade deal, which has been awaiting ratification since it was negotiated in 2007.
He said he hopes to see the pact approved as soon as possible.
Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon was quoted Thursday saying he believes the National Assembly will sign off on the pact by the end of this month. South Korea's Yonhap news agency that would make it possible for the agreement to go into effect in January.
Lee told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that the trade deal will create good jobs in both countries. He said those who argue the deal will cost jobs will be proven wrong.
Presidents Lee and Obama plan to visit a General Motors car plant Friday in the midwestern city of Detroit. Obama has said he would like to see Koreans driving U.S.-built cars the way many Americans drive Korean cars.
Wednesday, Lee visited the Pentagon for talks with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. U.S. officials have not given any details of their talks. South Korea's Yonhap news agency says North Korea and other security issues dominated their discussions.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.