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On holiday, Obama meets wounded troops

BETHESDA, Md. -- President Barack Obama used a quiet holiday yesterday to meet with wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Obama traveled to the hospital in Bethesda, Md., just outside Washington, in the afternoon. The White House said the president met with 38 wounded personnel. Thirty-five of them were injured in Afghanistan, three in Iraq. While at the hospital, Obama awarded four Purple Hearts.

The president's visit comes as the United States enters its 11th year of war in Afghanistan. Obama has announced plans to end the U.S. combat mission there by the end of 2014. Steps are also under way to bring all U.S. troops home from Iraq by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the White House said Obama will travel to a suburban Detroit auto plant Friday with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who is in the United States for a state visit expected to focus on trade. Congress is expected to approve a free trade deal with South Korea before the visit.

The White House said Obama and Lee will tour the General Motors Orion Assembly Plant.

The plant made news last year when the United Auto Workers agreed to a lower wage for 40 percent of its 1,500 workers so GM could profitably build two new small cars. GM began producing the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic at Lake Orion a few weeks ago and will start making the compact Buick Verano soon. The Sonic's predecessor, the Chevrolet Aveo, was built in South Korea.

Obama is fond of saying that if Americans can buy South Korean-made Kias and Hyundais, he wants to see South Koreans driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers.

The White House said in a statement the leaders will talk about the trade deal that "will open up economic opportunities and support jobs on both sides of the Pacific."

Congress is expected to approve free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that have been pending since George W. Bush was president. Supporters of the treaties say the pacts could boost exports by $13 billion a year and foster tens of thousands of American jobs.

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