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(News Focus) Ahead of Trump's visit, ex-U.S. leaders' speeches at Seoul parliament draw fresh attention

2017/10/17 16:25

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SEOUL, Oct. 17 (Yonhap) -- If history is any guide, President Donald Trump's speech to the South Korean parliament next month should be reaffirmation of an iron-clad alliance between the two countries and the U.S.' unwavering commitment to security in the region.

The White House announced Monday that Trump will address the country's unicameral legislature during his visit from Nov. 7-8 to celebrate the "enduring alliance" and call on the international community to join in maximizing pressure on North Korea.

Ahead of his speech, his predecessors' past remarks at the National Assembly have come under fresh spotlight.

This image, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows U.S. President Donald Trump. (Yonhap) This image, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows U.S. President Donald Trump. (Yonhap)

Since 1960, a total of five U.S. presidents have spoken at the assembly, touching on the changing contours of security and geopolitics following the Korean War, Vietnam War and other consequential historical events.

The common thread running through their speeches was America's firm commitment to its Asian ally's security and free democracy -- anchored on the 1953 mutual defense treaty -- in the face of persistent threats from the communist North.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was president from 1953-61, was the first American head of state to speak before the assembly.

His speech on June 20, 1960, started with an apology for his "tardiness" in arriving at the parliament and offered encouragement to Seoul, which was struggling to emerge from the ashes of the 1950-53 war, the first major armed conflict of the Cold War.

"Korea, once a battlefield for survival over aggression, is now a proving ground for responsible, representative self-government. This is a testing time of Korean integrity, perseverance in the democratic process, loyalty to the ideals on which the Republic was founded," he said.

"You of free Korea have struggled to rehabilitate your war-torn nation. You have achieved better standards of living against odds that for a less sturdy people would have been overwhelming," he added.

Eisenhower then reaffirmed the "pledge of full American support" for South Korea's security, stressing "you have reason today to be confident that your military forces, together with those of your friends and allies, will permit no intrusion."

   Six years later, Lyndon B. Johnson took the podium, stressing America's resolve against communist aggression. His speech on Nov. 2, 1966, came in the thick of the Vietnam War. From 1964-73, Seoul deployed around 325,000 troops -- some 5,000 of them killed in action.

"I hope that a great historian will soon record the story of how an ancient nation has emerged from the shadows of its colonial past and from the tragedy of war to become one of the youngest and the most vigorous constitutional democracies in the world," said Johnson who led the U.S. from 1963-69.

"I want him to record how you have taken your stand with other nations that are helping South Vietnam to resist a new communist tactic, one that combines external aggression with internal terror. I want him to record that your contribution, in terms of population, matches the United States of America," he added.

The third president to stand before South Korean lawmakers was Ronald Reagan. Reagan spoke here on Nov. 12, 1983, less than two months after the Soviet military shot down a South Korean airliner, apparently believing it was an intruding U.S. plane.

"My nation's prayers went out to the Korean families who lost loved ones even as we prayed for our own," said Reagan, who occupied the White House from 1981-1989.

Reagan also used the speech to condemn Pyongyang for its bombing to assassinate then South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan who was visiting Rangoon, now called Yangon, in Myanmar, earlier that year.

"The despicable North Korean attack in Rangoon deprived us of trusted advisers and friends... We also pledge to work with your government and others in the international community to censure North Korea for its uncivilized behavior," he said.

George Bush is the only American leader who addressed the assembly twice. Bush spoke at the legislature on Feb. 27, 1989 and Jan. 6, 1992.

This photo, taken on Feb. 27, 1989, shows then U.S. President George Bush speaking at South Korea's National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo, taken on Feb. 27, 1989, shows then U.S. President George Bush speaking at South Korea's National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)

During his 1989 speech, Bush voiced his support for then President Roh Tae-woo's diplomatic initiatives to build ties with then socialist states and foster inter-Korean exchanges, cooperation and peace.

"I will work closely with the president to coordinate our efforts to draw the North toward practical, peaceful, and productive dialogue to ensure that our policies are complementary and mutually reinforcing," said Bush, who was in office from 1989-93.

He also reiterated the U.S. security commitment to the South and reaffirmed that there were no plans to reduce U.S. forces in Korea. Currently, some 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed here as a deterrent against North Korean aggression.

Bill Clinton spoke at Seoul's legislature on July 10, 1993, just four months after the North dropped out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"Now, for the first time since that treaty was open for signatures, one of its members has threatened to withdraw. Our goals remain firm. We seek a nonnuclear Korean Peninsula and robust global rules against proliferation," said Clinton, who was in office from 1993-2001.

This photo, taken on July 10, 1993, shows then U.S. President Bill Clinton speaking at South Korea's National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo, taken on July 10, 1993, shows then U.S. President Bill Clinton speaking at South Korea's National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)

"North Korea must understand our intentions. We are seeking to prevent aggression, not to initiate it. And so long as North Korea abides by the U.N. Charter and international nonproliferation commitments, it has nothing to fear from America."

   The wayward regime is expected to dominate Trump's forthcoming remarks as well.

Trump's trip to Seoul comes amid heightened tensions sparked by the North's unrelenting provocations, including the Sept. 3 nuclear test, and an exchange of belligerent rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang.

Yonhap News Agency obtained the presidential speeches from the American Presidency Project, a non-profit website hosted by the University of California, Santa Barbara.

sshluck@yna.co.kr

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