- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2011

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak personally thanked Congress on Thursday for ratifying a long-awaited free trade agreement between the U.S. and his country the day before, saying the deal strengthened what already was “one of the closest, most important economic relationships in the world.”

“Thanks to all of you in this chamber, our economic ties are becoming even stronger,” Mr. Lee told a joint session of Congress.

“This agreement is a major step toward future growth and job creation. It is a win for our corporations. This is a win for our workers.”

He added he was grateful for the “swift” ratification of the deal, which initially was signed by former President George W. Bush in 2007 but which stalled for years over Democratic concerns related to automobiles and U.S. beef exports.

It is the largest pact the U.S. has ratified since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

President Barack Obama welcomes South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during a state arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct., 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama welcomes South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during a state ... more >

Mr. Lee spent much of his 38-minute Capitol Hill speech hailing joint U.S. and South Korean interests in capitalism and freedom. And he described how his country rose from a poor, underdeveloped region in the aftermath of the Korean War about 60 years ago to become a major world economic power.

“We invest in you, and you invest in us, because we are interdependent,” he said. “When we trade together, we grow together.”

The South Korean president also reiterated his government’s long-held stance that North Korea abandon its nuclear ambitions, and called on the United States to continue pressing the rouge communist nation to “denuclearize.”

“North Korea’s development is in our collective interest,” he said. “However, this depends on its willingness to end all provocations and make genuine peace. We will work with you and the international community so that North Korea makes the right choice.”

Unification of North and South Korea, Mr. Lee said, is an ultimate goal.

“I recognize the reality that Korean has been split in two, but I will never accept it as a permanent condition,” he said.

Mr. Lee, a onetime Hyundai executive and a former mayor of Seoul, gave thanks to American veterans of the Korean War, personally thanking four members of the House who served in the conflict; Democratic Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Charles B. Rangel of New York, and Republican Reps. Sam Johnson of Texas and Howard Coble of North Carolina.

The South Korean president also said he was grateful for the service of the more than 28,000 American military personal serving in his country.

“We want to thank you for keeping faith with the generation of your parents and grandparents, defending freedom on the Korea peninsula,” he said.

Mr. Lee, who arrived in Washington on Tuesday for a five-day U.S. visit, will attend a state dinner Thursday evening. He and President Obama are scheduled to travel to Michigan Friday to tour a General Motors Co. plant.