- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

SEOUL | President Obama’s visit to South Korea on Thursday was unusual for an American president in that there were no major anti-American protests.

A few dozen antiwar activists gathered in bustling downtown Seoul to pose for news photographers while protesting South Korea’s plan to dispatch troops to Afghanistan to help the U.S.-led mission.

But they were overwhelmed by thousands chanting “Welcome, Obama, U.S.A.” and waving U.S. and South Korean flags.

The greeting was in contrast to noisy anti-U.S. protests during visits by other U.S. leaders, including former President George W. Bush.

An estimated 3,000 activists lined the streets near the U.S. Embassy Thursday as Mr. Obama’s motorcade passed by en route to a meeting with President Lee Myung-bak at the presidential Blue House.

They held placards reading “We love Obama” and “We support strong U.S.-Korea alliance,” as about 13,000 police and soldiers deployed to guard Mr. Obama looked on.

“Let me just say we have been so gratified by the warm welcome by which we were received here,” Mr. Obama said. “I think that has every indication that our alliance is strong.”

It was Mr. Obama’s first visit to South Korea as president, a 22-hour stop at the end of a tour of Asia that included stops at an Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore and visits to Japan and China.

South Korean officials had hoped Mr. Obama would travel to the border area with the North, just 30 miles from Seoul, to urge North Korea to emerge from its isolationist and belligerent shell.

In early 2002, Mr. Bush traveled to the South’s border station of Dorasan to urge the North to move toward peace and disarmament.

The biggest regret was that Mr. Obama did not stay longer.

“President Obama’s Asian trip was heavily focused on China and his brief stop in Seoul created a sense of pity, particularly at a time when tensions are mounting on the peninsula over North Korea’s nuclear drive and military provocations,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.

Last week, the intrusion by a patrol boat from the North into the South’s territorial waters led to an exchange of naval gunfire in a reminder that the divided peninsula remains a Cold War flash point.

The violation of the sea border was thought to be a calculated move to raise military tensions on the peninsula ahead of Mr. Obama’s visit.

“Though his Seoul trip was short, President Obama offered a clearer message by officially announcing a plan to send his envoy to Pyongyang to meet its desire for high-level personal contact,” Mr. Kim said.

“Our message is clear. If North Korea is prepared to take concrete and irreversible steps to fulfill its obligations and eliminate its nuclear weapons program, the United States will support economic assistance and help promote its full integration into the community of nations,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama and his South Korean counterpart agreed to push for the ratification of a free-trade agreement between their two countries.

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