Continued from page 1

The president’s agenda

Sunday afternoon, the president plans to meet with the prime minister of Turkey to discuss a range of topics, including U.S. support for political and economic reform throughout the Middle East and Africa and the ability to consult on Iran.

On Monday morning, Mr. Obama will deliver a speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, outlining his goals for the nuclear summit. Afterward, he will meet with Russian President Medvedev - his final meeting with Mr. Medvedev before he leaves power in May - and separately with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Mr. Obama also intends to use the visit, his third to South Korea, for a Sunday photo-op trip to the demilitarized zone separating the two countries. Every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan has visited the DMZ; Mr. Obama didn’t venture there during his first two trips.

“The visit itself is a demonstration of the president’s gratitude for the service of the Americans on the peninsula, and his personal investment in this alliance, and his personal commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea,” Ben Rhodes, a White House national security adviser, told reporters ahead of the trip.

The host’s big stage

Against that backdrop, South Korea President Lee Myung-bak will host the summit that serves as the final international highlight of his five-year term, which ends next February. Mr. Lee has made South Korea’s emerging international prominence a focus of his administration, and has maintained a close relationship with Mr. Obama.

“It’s clearly another feather in the cap of a South Korean president who talked about global Korea,” said Victor Cha, former director of Asian affairs on the National Security Council under the second President Bush. “He hosted the G-20, won the bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and now is hosting the nuclear summit. They are three very clear benchmarks for his view that Korea should be more global and should not simply be wrapped around the axle about North Korea.”

Mr. Cha, chairman of the Korea program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Mr. Lee’s success on the international stage stands in contrast to his status as a lame-duck leader at home.

“Generally his reputation and the reputation of Korea internationally is quite high,” Mr. Cha said. “Unfortunately within Korea, it’s the complete opposite. He gets no credit for any of this stuff, and he’s terribly unpopular inside of his country.”

Fukushima’s impact

While the summit’s focus is preventing terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear weapons, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, also looms large over the conference. It’s a delicate balance for the South Koreans, who are a major exporter of nuclear reactors for commercial use.

But the opposition party is campaigning in parliamentary elections this spring on a platform of shifting away from nuclear power.

There are 23 nuclear reactors at four plants in South Korea, generating nearly one-third of the nation’s electricity. A South Korean consortium recently won a $20 billion contract to supply four nuclear reactors to the United Arab Emirates.

Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.