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South Korean President Pledges Improved US Relations


New South Korean President Lee Myung-bak got straight to diplomacy on his first afternoon in office. As VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin reports, he promised the visiting U.S. Secretary of State he would improve on the outgoing administration's ties with the United States.

New South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was making diplomatic inroads within hours of Monday's inauguration ceremony.

In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Lee's spokesman, Lee Dong-kwan, says the president looked for a new start.

He says Mr. Lee told Rice the U.S. - South Korea relationship had been lacking something over the past five years, and had even become "awkward." Mr. Lee then said things would improve under his administration, and that closer ties between the two countries would also help ties between the two Koreas.

Washington has been a close ally of South Korea's since the end of the Second World War, and stations about 28,000 troops here to deter a repeat of North Korea's 1950 invasion. The two are close partners in multinational efforts to end North Korea's nuclear-weapons programs.

But most experts agree the alliance was strained during the administration of Mr. Lee's predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, mainly over differences in perception of North Korea. Mr. Lee has vowed to revamp what South Koreans view as Mr. Roh's overly generous and uncritical policy of economic aid to Pyongyang.

Secretary Rice praised Mr. Lee's inaugural-speech pledge to fortify the South Korea-U.S. alliance, and said the relationship between the two countries will remain strong.

"It is a relationship that has only deepened over the years because we share something very important - as much as we share strategic interests, we also share common values," she said.

Mr. Lee also met with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who said afterwards the two countries had agreed to resume frequent high-level contacts and to communicate in a "frank and comfortable" manner.

Japan subjected the Korean peninsula to harsh colonial rule during the first half of the 20th century, and South Korea has often accused Japan of whitewashing its imperial past. Mr. Lee's predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, halted certain diplomatic contacts with Tokyo in a dispute over visits by Japanese politicians to a controversial war shrine which honors convicted war criminals alongside other Japanese war dead.