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Meeting with His Excellency Lee Myung-bak

Speaker: Lee Myung-Bak, President, Republic of Korea
Presider: Robert E. Rubin, Co-Chairman, Council on Foreign Relations
September 21, 2009

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South Korean President Lee Myung-bak spoke at the New York office of the Council on Foreign Relations on September 21, outlining the future of the U.S.-South Korea alliance and concerns about a nuclear North Korea. Lee called for the United States and South Korea to ratify the free trade agreement pending in the U.S. Congress. He also discussed South Korea's role in the upcoming G-20 summit and global climate negotiations.

Here are some of the points featured in his speech:

North Korea's Last Chance: Lee called for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. He said the latest UN Security Council Resolution against Pyongyang would continue to be implemented even as the international community encourages North Korea to denuclearize. "North Korea is facing not a threat but an opportunity. North Korea must not throw away what may be their last chance," he said. He also stressed that the international community must change its traditional pattern of negotiating with Pyongyang, which until now had resulted in compensating North Korea for rescinding on its promises. He said the five parties within the six-party framework (excluding North Korea) must agree on an action plan toward complete dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program. In return, he said, Pyongyang would receive a grand bargain: security assurances and international assistance.

Expanding the U.S.-South Korea Alliance: Lee called for a sustained strategic partnership with the United States that went beyond security to cooperate on issues such as climate change, nonproliferation, and economy. He said trade between the United States and Korea has been "faltering a little bit in recent times," and called for both countries to ratify the pending free trade agreement.

A Bridging Role on Climate Change: By the end of 2009 South Korea will announce a mitigation target for carbon emissions, said Lee. As a Non-Annex I country in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty, South Korea does not have to commit to legally binding emission targets. But Lee said he hopes this measure will encourage other emerging economies and play a bridging role between the advanced and emerging economies split on the issue of emission targets.

G-20 and the Financial Crisis: Ahead of the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh on September 24-25, Lee said it's going to be very difficult for all the leaders at the forum to come to full agreement on financial regulatory reform. He stressed the importance of preparing for the post-crisis period, rebalancing global growth, and enacting reform of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.

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