President Barack Obama was touting economic and military ties to South Korea Saturday, as he sought to showcase U.S. influence in the region amid China's growing power and nuclear threats from North Korea.
Obama kicked off the second day of his overnight trip to Seoul in a meeting with business leaders aimed at promoting trade between the two nations. He then joined South Korean President Park Geun-hye for a rare joint defence briefing that focused on efforts to counter the unpredictable North's nuclear ambitions.
U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of the joint U.S.-South Korea command, told the two presidents that his team "works together every day to make sure that we defend the Republic of Korea and that we deter North Korea."
After a private classified briefing, Obama was to address some of the 28,000 American service members stationed in South Korea. Following his remarks, Obama was to depart for Malaysia, the third stop on his four-country Asia swing.
During a morning meeting with a dozen corporate executives, Obama said the U.S. and South Korea are going to have "one of the key economic relationships of the 21st century." The executives represented businesses including Hyundai, Samsung, Korean Air, Microsoft, Boeing, Goldman Sachs and others.
"As important as the security relationship is and the alliance is between the Republic of Korea and the United States, what is also important is the incredible and growing economic ties that are creating jobs and opportunity in both countries," Obama said.
While in Seoul, Obama has also paid tribute to victims from last week's ferry disaster. The vast majority of the 300 dead or missing were students from a single high school near the capital city.
The president also has had to attend to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, as a fragile accord with Russia aimed at stemming tensions appears to have crumbled. Obama spoke by telephone with European leaders to discuss the possibility of deepening economic sanctions on Russia, though it appeared unlikely that new penalties would be imposed on Friday.