WASHINGTON (AP) – South Korea’s president met with congressional leaders Thursday in advance of a White House dinner with President Donald Trump in an effort to reassure Washington he will coordinate closely on dealing with the threat from North Korea.
President Moon Jae-in has long advocated engagement with North Korea to address its nuclear weapons development. His position could cause strains with Trump, who wants to step up economic pressure and further isolate the North diplomatically.
The U.S. and South Korea want to show they are on the same page as concern deepens over North Korea’s technological progress toward a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the continental U.S., and its lack of interest in negotiations aimed at dismantling its atomic arsenal.
“We have a lot to work together for,” Republican Speaker Paul Ryan said as top House lawmakers sat down with Moon on Capitol Hill. “We have shared concerns such as threats posed to both our nations from North Korea.”
Moon began his four-day visit, his first overseas trip since taking office last month, with a powerful symbolic show of his personal commitment to the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
He laid a wreath Wednesday at a memorial to Marines who fought in one of the fiercest battles of the Korean War, where a rearguard U.S. action enabled a mass evacuation of Korean civilians, including Moon’s parents.
Moon pledged to stand firmly with Trump. “Together we will achieve the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program, peace on the Korean Peninsula and eventually peace in Northeast Asia,” he said.
Moon’s conservative predecessor, who was impeached in a bribery scandal, took a hard line toward North Korea. Moon has sought to allay concerns that his softer stance could open fissures with Washington. He says sanctions alone cannot solve the problem, but the “right conditions” are needed for dialogue.
China is pushing the United States to start negotiations with the North. That prospect appears unlikely as Trump grows frustrated over Beijing’s level of economic pressure on the North, its wayward ally.
Moon also met with Senate leaders. There is strong congressional support for ratcheting up sanctions, including against Chinese banks and companies that deal with North Korea.
At the White House, Trump and first lady Melania Trump were preparing to host Moon and South Korean first lady Kim Jung-sook for dinner, in what would be the first meeting between Trump and Moon. They planned formal talks on Friday.
Addressing U.S. business leaders on Wednesday, Moon called for further expansion of job-creating economic ties between the allies, which adopted a free trade agreement in 2012. He even looked forward to a time when peace on the divided Korean Peninsula would open up business opportunities inside North Korea.
South Korean companies on Thursday announced plans to import more American shale gas and build new factories in the U.S. That could help fend off criticism from Trump over the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea, which totaled $17 billion last year.