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N. Korean Nuclear Threat Expected to Dominate US-South Korea Talks

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has departed for the United States, where he plans to meet with President Obama. Security issues related to the North Korean nuclear threat and the recent United Nations response, are expected to top the agenda.

In a radio address before boarding a flight Monday to the United States, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak vowed to work with President Obama on issues of mutual security and economic growth.

He says he hopes to firm up the South Korean-American alliance and push forward a trade liberalization agreement between the two countries - all the while building trust with President Obama.

First formal meeting

Tuesday's scheduled meeting is to be the first formal summit between the two leaders. It comes weeks after North Korea conducted its second test of a nuclear weapon and just days after Pyongyang vowed to convert its entire remaining plutonium supply into weapons material.

Nam Ju-heong, a professor of International Politics at Seoul's Kyungki University, says those events add urgency to this week's talks.

He says this is no mere courtesy call - that this week's meeting will be tackling real security issues. Nam says, above all, important words will come out from this summit providing a vision for the future.

Nuclear umbrella

Those "important words" may include some more explicit guarantee of what is often referred to as the U.S. "nuclear umbrella" over the South. South Korean media reports have been citing unnamed South Korean government officials as saying Mr. Lee will seek written assurance the United States will provide a so-called "extended nuclear deterrent" to the South.

The North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper lashed out at the South, Monday, for allegedly seeking such a guarantee, calling it an "unforgivable crime" aimed at starting a "second Korean War with nuclear weapons."

International security analysts say America's decades-long guarantee of South Korea's security has always implicitly extended to nuclear defense. However, this week's summit may produce the first written U.S. guarantee to that effect.

Trade deal

Presidents Lee and Obama are expected to discuss mechanisms for enforcing the newly passed United Nations Security Council resolution 1874, in response to the latest North Korean nuclear test.

They also hope to push forward ratification of a wide-ranging trade liberalization deal their predecessors signed in 2007. Neither country's legislature has ratified the deal, amid controversy over politically sensitive clauses as well as distractions caused by the global financial crisis.