U.S.-South Korea Relations [November 28, 2011]   [open pdf - 521KB]

"Of all the issues on the bilateral agenda, Congress has had the most direct role to play in the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), the United States' second-largest FTA after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). [...] The day after Congress passed the KORUS FTA, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak addressed a joint session of Congress. Lee was in Washington for a State Visit to the White House, the fifth since Barack Obama's inauguration. [...] The Obama and Lee Administrations have adopted a medium-to-longer-term policy of 'strategic patience' that involves four main elements: refusing to return to the Six-Party Talks without an assurance from North Korea that it would take 'irreversible steps' to denuclearize; gradually attempting to alter China's strategic assessment of North Korea; using Pyongyang's provocations as opportunities to tighten sanctions against North Korean entities; and insisting that significant multilateral and U.S. talks with North Korea must be preceded by improvements in North-South Korean relations. Lee, in turn, has linked progress in many areas of North-South relations to progress in denuclearizing North Korea. The United States maintains about 28,500 troops in the ROK [Republic of Korea]. Since 2009, the two sides have accelerated steps to transform the U.S.-ROK alliance's primary purpose from one of defending against a North Korean attack to a regional and even global partnership. Washington and Seoul have announced a 'Strategic Alliance 2015' plan to relocate U.S. troops on the Peninsula and boost ROK defense capabilities. Some Members of Congress have criticized the relocation plans. Much of the current closeness between Seoul and Washington is due to President Lee. It is unclear how sustainable many of his policies will be, particularly into 2012, when South Koreans will elect a new president and a new legislature. Bilateral coordination will be particularly tested if South Korea's left-of-center groups, which gained significant momentum in 2011 and which bitterly oppose much of Lee's agenda, retake the presidency and/or the National Assembly."

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CRS Report for Congress, R41481
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