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Former Hyundai Exec Wins S. Korean Presidency

BY Admin  December 19, 2007 at 4:05 PM EDT

South Korean president-elect Lee Myung-bak

Over the past 10 years, left-leaning governments in South Korea often sparred with the United States over policy toward the North. Lee, 65, the candidate from the Grand National Party — the South Korea equivalent of the Republican Party in America — will likely change that, some Korea watchers say.

“Lee will want to change the tone, he’ll talk a lot about rebuilding trust,” said Victor Cha, who served on the National Security Council staff from 2005 to mid-2007. In addition, for first time since President Bush was inaugurated in 2001, the United States and South Korea will have governments that are ideologically on the same plane, Cha said.

The rhetoric coming out of Washington about South Korea is likely to improve in return. Lee’s election “will make people in the U.S. Congress more comfortable,” according to Cha. “There is still a lot of pent up anger” within the U.S. government at the manner in which current South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun came into office “riding a wave of anti-Americanism.”

Lee also is expected to tweak South Korea’s policy toward Pyongyang. During the campaign, Lee said he would review outgoing President Roh’s policy of giving aid to North Korea without question, linking future assistance to progress the North makes in shedding its nuclear program.

The South Korean presidential election comes at a sensitive time in six-party talks involving the two Koreas, United States, China, Japan and Russia.

In an agreement reached in February 2007, North Korea promised to disable its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and provide a full accounting of its nuclear program by the end of 2007. In exchange, the North will receive economic assistance and improved relations with the United States and the four other members of the talks.

The U.S. State Department mentioned the six-party talks in its congratulations to Lee.

“We have a long history of cooperation and friendship with South Korea and fully expect that’ll continue with this new government,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey, reported the Associated Press. “Certainly, we’ve got a number of important issues on our bilateral agenda including our mutual cooperation in the six-party talks.”

Lee’s inauguration is scheduled for Feb. 25.