President George W Bush hosts South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun at the White House today in a summit that's likely to be the most difficult and potentially most tendentious meeting ever held between the leaders of the two countries. The two presidents are so far apart on the most basic issues that no amount of diplomatic double-talk appears likely to paper over the chasm.
It's hard to say which of these two areas of discussion is more controversial. The topic of North Korea grabs the headlines while that country's leader, Kim Jong-il, wields the threat of an underground nuclear test that would proclaim it a full-fledged nuclear power, but US efforts to penetrate South Korea's largely closed agricultural markets arouse much greater concern to well-organized South Korean farmers.
The US and South Korea, moreover, are at odds on the basic future of their alliance. The United States has persuaded South Korea to go along with a grand design for scaling down the number of US troops while building a huge new base 80 kilometers south of Seoul. The plan confronts South Koreans with the question of whether their country is really prepared to face the North militarily.
The solution, in the official South Korean view, would be for the US to talk directly with North Korea rather than insist that it return to six-party talks as a prerequisite for any form of dialogue.
Roh may also try to convince Bush on what he sees as the folly of the US drive for stiffening economic measures against North Korea if it continues to refuse to return to six-party talks.
[Excerpt of an article by Donald Kirk, Asia Times]