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Obama hails alliance with South Korea

(Xinhua)

08:47, October 14, 2011

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- President Barack Obama on Thursday welcomed his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-Bak to the White House for a state visit, hailing a "stronger-than-ever" alliance between their nations.

Braving a steady rain, Obama and his wife Michelle welcomed Lee and his wife Kim Yoon-Ok to the South Lawn of the White House.

Hours before Lee's arrival, the U.S. Congress approved long-stalled free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

"With our landmark trade agreement, we will bring our nations even closer, creating new jobs for both our people and preserving our edge as two of the most dynamic economies in the world," Obama said.

As the world's 12th largest economy and America's seventh largest trading partner, South Korea's free trade agreement with the United States is expected to eventually eliminate 95 percent of existing bilateral tariffs.

Lee called the pact "a win for both of our countries."

"This agreement will create more jobs. It will expand mutual investments into both of our countries," he said. "It will become a new engine of growth that will propel our economies forward."

After the welcome ceremony, the two presidents retreated to the Oval Office for bilateral talks, which were expected to focus on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and other regional issues.

Later in the day, Lee was to address a joint session of U.S. Congress and attend a state dinner in his honor at the White House hosted by Obama.

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