WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump said Friday the United States is renegotiating its trade deal with South Korea as he met the nation's new leader for talks also addressing the nuclear weapons threat from North Korea.
Trump welcomed South Korean President Moon Jae-in for formal talks at the White House a day after they met over dinner. As well as concerns over North Korea's technological progress toward a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the continental U.S., Trump is pushing for a narrowing of the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea.
Since his 2016 election campaign, Trump has been critical of a 2012 bilateral free trade agreement and barriers to U.S. auto exports. South Korea had trade surplus of $17 billion with the U.S. last year when including both goods and services.
"We are renegotiating a trade deal right now as we speak with South Korea and hopefully it will be an equitable deal, it will be a fair deal for both parties," Trump said alongside Moon in the Oval Office. ""We want something that will be very good for the American worker."
Ahead of Moon's visit, the White House official said Trump would call for the lifting of barriers to U.S. auto sales in South Korea and voice concern over steel exports from China that reach the U.S. via South Korea. South Korean companies on Thursday announced plans to import more American shale gas and build new factories in the U.S. that Seoul hoped could help fend off the criticism.
Moon said he and Trump had "honest discussions" at dinner on the North Korean nuclear issue and other issues of mutual interest.
"It was a great opportunity for us to further the trust and friendship between me and President Trump," Moon said. "It was also an opportunity for us to reconfirm the fact that the United States and Korea are walking together on the same path towards a great alliance."
After expanded talks involving other officials, the two leaders will make statements to reporters.
On North Korea, Trump said, "we have a very, very strong and solid plan." On Thursday, the Treasury Department blacklisted a Chinese bank accused of conducting millions in illicit business with North Korea as Washington intensified pressure on Beijing to crackdown on its wayward ally.
The South Korean leader has sought to make clear to the U.S. that he is also serious about dealing with his neighbor's threat, despite his inclination to restart dialogue with the North.
Moon's conservative predecessor, who was impeached in a bribery scandal, took a hard line toward North Korea. In recent interviews, Moon has said sanctions alone cannot solve the problem of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, but the "right conditions" are needed for dialogue.
In another point of contention, Moon has delayed the full deployment of a U.S. missile defense system, which is intended to defend South Koreans and the 28,000 U.S. troops based in the country, pending an environmental review.
Before Friday's talks at the White House, Moon laid a wreath at the Korean War Memorial monument near the Washington Mall. He was accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, whose father served in the U.S. Army during the 1950-53 Korean War. Under the pale blue morning sky, they observed a moment of silence as a lone trumpeter played "Taps."
It was the second occasion during Moon's four-day visit that he has paid tribute to American veterans of that conflict. On Wednesday, he visited a memorial to Marines who fought in rearguard U.S. action in 1950 that enabled a mass evacuation of Korean civilians, including Moon's parents.