A high-level delegation sent by South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye arrived in Washington Wednesday amid lingering questions about its specific mission and mandate.
"(We) came here to deliver President-elect Park's intent on ensuring the further development of the bilateral ties on the military, political, diplomatic and economic fronts," Rep. Lee Hahn-koo, head of the delegation, told reporters upon arriving at an airport.
Lee, the floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, is leading the group, which includes other lawmakers and senior government officials, on a three-day trip.
On the agenda are North Korea's apparent move to test a nuclear bomb and Park's plan to visit Washington as early as April, according to diplomatic sources. But the group's exact schedule remains uncertain.
While the delegation is seeking to meet with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. side has not given a clear answer yet.
"The details of the delegation's schedule are still being confirmed," a State Department official said on the condition of anonymity.
A source said the delegation has not requested a courtesy call on President Barack Obama, who is preoccupied with domestic issues in the early weeks of his second term.
The delegates are scheduled to have separate meetings with Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank.
"The rest of the schedule is in the making," the source said.
"The second term of the Obama administration has just begun.
Secretary of State Kerry was sworn in last week, with the confirmation process of the nominee to become the secretary of defense incomplete. It is true that there are difficulties in arranging the delegation's meetings with senior U.S. officials."
The delegation is expected to be able to meet Kerry, added the source.
Park's aides at the transition team characterized the group as intended to have unspecified "policy consultations," rather than serving as "special envoys" of the incoming South Korean leader.
Critics say it's because the delegation has failed to schedule a meeting with Obama or Biden.
In late January, Park dispatched Kim Moo-sung, one of her long-time aides, as a special envoy to Beijing. Kim met with China's president-in-waiting, Xi Jinping.
The team's trip is basically to reciprocate a visit by an inter-agency U.S. delegation led by Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, to Seoul last month, South Korean diplomats here said.
Five years ago, then-South Korean President-elect Lee Myung-bak sent Rep. Chung Mong-joon to Washington as his envoy. At that time, President George W. Bush dropped by when Chung was meeting with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. (Yonhap News)