(ATTN: UPDATES with Moon's remarks at airport in paras 4-6, 13-14; ADDS photo; CHANGES dateline)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, May 19 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in headed to the United States on Wednesday for summit talks with President Joe Biden on COVID-19 vaccine cooperation, North Korea, alliance issues and bilateral economic partnerships.
He is scheduled to hold the session at the White House on Friday afternoon (local time). It will mark their first face-to-face meeting. The two plan to announce the results of their talks in an ensuing joint press conference.
The summit is expected to set the tone for overall relations between the allies during the remainder of Moon's presidency to end in May 2022.
Moon said he has "high expectations" for his first overseas trip since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 cases are "stabilizing" in the U.S. thanks to its swift vaccinations and that is giving hope to the world with speedy economic recovery, Moon noted, conversing with Robert Rapson, charge d'affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy here, just ahead of departure.
The envoy was quoted as replying that Biden is greatly looking forward to having a summit with Moon, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Kyung-mee.
Moon hopes for an accomplishment in discussions on vaccines.
"I will use this visit to the U.S. as an opportunity to strengthen cooperation on vaccines and (for South Korea) to move toward the goal of becoming a global hub for vaccine production," the president said publicly earlier this week.
South Korea is striving to advance the shipment of U.S.-made vaccines under existing contracts, and it is also seeking to sign additional deals, including those on technology transfer for local production. Among the options under consideration is a vaccine swap deal.
North Korea is another key topic. Moon wants to ensure that the allies will keep in lockstep with each other in dealing with Pyongyang. He also hopes for a breakthrough in efforts to revive the long-stalled Korea peace process.
Observers are paying attention to whether Moon will secure Biden's commitment to inheriting the 2018 Singapore agreement between his predecessor Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
There may be an accord to adjust the schedule of a combined military exercise slated to open in the summer in order to send a signal to Pyongyang.
Seeing Moon off at the Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, just south of Seoul, Song Young-gil, leader of the ruling Democratic Party, expressed hope that his trip to Washington will offer a chance for a breakthrough.
The president responded with optimism, saying that relevant dialogue in Washington is expected to proceed smoothly as the Biden administration's security team is well aware of Korean Peninsula affairs. Moon said he would make efforts to produce good results during the visit.
Biden may also nudge Moon to strengthen trilateral security cooperation involving Tokyo amid the drawn-out diplomatic standoff between the Northeast Asian countries over shared history.
Officials in Seoul have been guarded about whether the sensitive issue of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, will be discussed in the summit. It is a forum of the U.S,. Japan, India and Australia that is widely regarded as aimed at countering China's growing influence. The U.S. is said to be moving to expand the Quad to include South Korea and some other "like-minded" nations in the Indo-Pacific region.
Moon and Biden are likely to talk about cooperation on such key industries as semiconductors, batteries and biohealth.
The CEOs of some related South Korean companies, including SK and LG, are accompanying Moon on this week's U.S. trip. They are likely to make public plans for large-scale investments in the U.S. on the occasion of the visit.
Moon plans to begin his official activities in the U.S. capital on Thursday morning with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. He is to pay tribute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
He will also attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial and meet with Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C.
He is pushing for a stopover in Atlanta on his way back home to visit a factory of SK Innovation, a South Korean energy company.
He is to return to Seoul on Sunday night. The size of Moon's entourage for his "official working visit" to the U.S. has been minimized out of coronavirus concerns, according to his office.
Moon is making his first overseas travel in 1 1/2 years, having skipped foreign visits due to the coronavirus pandemic since a trip to China in December 2019.
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