Obama welcomes S. Korea’s Lee to White House

WASHINGTON (AP) ? Heralding a visiting friend and some rare bipartisanship at home, President Barack Obama welcomed South Korea’s president to the White House on Thursday as a valuable world partner. The pageantry came mere hours after Congress pushed through a long-delayed trade pact between both leaders’ countries.

Under a steady rain and the cover of an umbrella, Obama told South Korean President Lee Myung-bak that the alliance of their nations is stronger than ever.

“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.

In a rush of action timed to Lee’s visit, Congress on Wednesday approved free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The administration says the three deals will boost U.S. exports by $13 billion a year and that just the agreement with South Korea will support 70,000 American jobs.

Lee declared the trade deal will be an engine of growth for both countries.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, greeted Lee and his wife, Kim Yoon-ok, on the South Lawn for a formal arrival ceremony at the start of a state visit full of pomp, circumstance and substance. Only the steady rain differentiated this colorful and historical ceremony from most such formal greetings-of-state that have preceded it.

The day was to include an Oval Office meeting between Obama and Lee and an address by Lee to a joint session of Congress, all culminating with a state dinner.