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Conservatives Adopt South Korea's Park as Asian Thatcher

Image: Conservatives Adopt South Korea's Park as Asian Thatcher

By John Gizzi   |   Thursday, 09 May 2013 08:36 AM

South Korean President Park Geun-hye won enthusiastic reviews during her trip to the United States, including from conservative Republicans who voiced particular admiration for South Korea’s first woman president after she addressed a joint session of Congress.

In the same way as conservative Republicans in Congress "adopted" Britain's Margaret Thatcher during the "Iron Lady's" time as prime minister, lawmakers on the right today were eagerly embracing the strong-willed South Korean conservative whom admirers call the "Lady of Steel.”

Speaking to Newsmax minutes after he attended President Park's address to Congress, Rep. Luke Messer, Indiana Republican, said, "I was certainly impressed with her remarks, especially when she said 'a nuclear North Korea cannot stand.' And I was impressed with her broader vision. She almost sounded like John Lennon when she spoke of one day building a park in the demilitarized zone, so she clearly struck a good balance with members of Congress across the aisle."

"She sees the North Korean shenanigans up close and personal and doesn't put up with their bluff and bluster," Arizona Republican Rep. Matt Salmon told Newsmax, shortly after Park and President Barack Obama held a joint news conference at the White House Tuesday afternoon.

"And unlike our president, when she says 'red line,' she means it," said Salmon.

Both Messer and Salmon are members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia. Earlier this year, Salmon joined Republican Reps. Steve Chabot of Ohio, the subcommittee chairman, and Ed Royce of California, chairman of the full Foreign Affairs Committee, for a trip to Seoul and a meeting with Park shortly after her election.

"All of us were extremely impressed with her, and felt she had a strong commitment to working with the U.S.," he said, adding that she appeared to be "a Margaret Thatcher for South Korea."

The American lawmakers, recalled Salmon, were in firm agreement with Park's policy of "Trustpolitik,” toward the North Korean regime. By "Trustpolitik," Park wrote in Foreign Affairs last year, "first, North Korea must keep its agreements with South Korea and the international community to establish a minimum level of trust, and second, there must be assured consequences for actions that breach the peace."

But, she made clear, South Korea "must first demonstrate through a robust and credible deterrent posture, that it will no longer tolerate North Korea's increasingly violent provocations. It must show Pyongyang that the North will pay a heavy price for its military and nuclear threats."

"That's fair — a carrot and a stick for North Korea," said Salmon, "and zero tolerance for bad behavior from the kleptocracy in Pyongyang."

In discussing their strong admiration for Park, Messer, Salmon, and other Republican admirers inevitably brought up her moving and tragic life story.

She is possibly the only world leader who has had both parents die by gunfire. In 1974, a North Korean assassin's bullet meant for her father, South Korea President Park Chung-hee, instead struck and killed her mother. Five years later, Park Chung-hee himself was shot by the former intelligence chief he had removed from office.

While campaigning for her Grand National Party in 2006, Park Geun-hye was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant, resulting in a 4½-inch slash to her face, which required 60 stitches.

Recalling how he had met Mother Teresa before her death, Messer said that President Park was like the late humanitarian in that the South Korean president "is one of those people who has a remarkable presence. You sense the moral authority in her right away and she engenders confidence."

Indications from their meetings and press conference were that South Korea's president got along well with her American counterpart. But it is also clear from conversations with Republican lawmakers that Park Geun-hye has won some other fans in Washington.

And, as American conservatives were about Britain's "Iron Lady" a generation ago, they are quite enthusiastic in their admiration of South Korea's "Lady of Steel" today.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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