Obama to pray for victims

President Barack Obama is expected to express his condolences to the victims of the sunken ferry Sewol and their families during his two-day trip starting today.

A Cheong Wa Dae official said that it will be up to the U.S. head of state as to where and how he does so.

“It is up to the U.S. side,” said Ju Chul-ki, President Park Geun-hye’s senior secretary for foreign affairs and security, during a briefing Thursday.

Among the possible venues are Danwon High School in Ansan, south of Seoul, attended by students onboard the ill-fated ferry who comprise the majority of the dead, or a joint memorial altar in the vicinity of the school.

Park visited Jindo, the island off the southwestern coast, where rescue operations are being conducted from. Park has not visited the school or the altar.

During the U.S. President’s visit, Ju said Obama and Park plan to discuss Pyongyang’s rising threats while reaffirming the strong bilateral partnership of the long-time allies in their third summit.

Park flew to Washington in early May 2013 for her first meeting with Obama, less than three months after her inauguration, and the two also met last month along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in The Hague.

“At a summit, which is set to last an hour on Friday afternoon, the heads will discuss the two countries’ alliance, the North’s nuclear threats and the situation in Northeast Asia,” Ju said.

“Obama will also bring nine royal seals of the Joseon Kingdom (1492-1910), which were smuggled out of the country during the Korean War (1950-53). He will deliver them to Park before holding a press conference.”

Seoul is worried about Pyongyang, which many expect may soon carry out a fourth nuclear test as activity has increased of late at a test site.

The nine stolen cultural properties are three state seals, which kings used on diplomatic and other significant documents, and six ceremonial ones, which royal families used in rituals.

Also included on the summit agenda will be a discussion about the planned transfer of wartime operational control of troops in Korea.

After the Korean War broke out, Seoul gave both wartime and peacetime operational control to Washington, which returned peacetime control in 1994 and was poised to hand over wartime command in 2012.

But the move was postponed to 2015 under previous President Lee Myung-bak, and the incumbent administration has asked Washington to delay the schedule once again amid lingering tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

“Park and Obama will also talk about many non-political issues like the free trade agreement and collaboration in education, science and technology, space and energy,” Ju said.

Obama is also expected to try to drum up Seoul’s supports for its recent policy of rebalancing to Asia in order to check the ever-increasing influence of China.

Competition between the world’s two powers has been stiff in the region.

Ju said that Obama is expected to visit Seoul’s War Memorial to pay his respects to the fallen U.N. troops during the Korean War, and Gyeongbok Palace close to Cheong Wa Dae.

On Saturday, he plans to meet with American businesspeople here before leaving the country, Ju said.

Through the trip, Seoul will become the only foreign capital Obama has visited four times while in office. The U.S. chief executive has been to Tokyo three times and London and Kabul twice. By Kim Tae-gyu The korea times

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