U.S. President Barack Obama says nations must step up pressure on Pyongyang until North Korea decides to change its behavior and comply with international norms. The president was responding to reporter's questions about the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March that an international investigation concluded caused by a North Korean torpedo.
President Obama fielded two questions on North Korea, one from an American reporter and one from a Japanese journalist, during his news conference at the end of the G20 summit.
Referring to the findings of a panel of experts that North Korea attacked the Cheonan in March, Mr. Obama reiterated his view that South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak had shown extraordinary restraint on the matter.
It is absolutely critical, Mr. Obama said, that the international community rally behind South Korea to send a clear message to Pyongyang.
"And send a message to North Korea that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and that the international community will continue to step up pressure until it makes a decision to follow a path that is consistent with international norms," he said.
The president was asked by a Japanese reporter about discussions on North Korea during his bilateral meeting with China's President Hu Jintao.
Saying he was very blunt with the Chinese leader, Mr. Obama said the issue is not one on which two parties with moral equivalence have an argument. He called the sinking of the Cheonan a situation in which a belligerent nation was engaged in provocative and deadly acts against another country.
President Obama said the United States is engaged in efforts in the U.N. Security Council to ensure that there is a "crystal clear acknowledgment" that North Korea engaged in belligerent behavior that is unacceptable to the international community.
Mr. Obama suggested that nations need to take a realistic look at Pyongyang.
"It is a bad habit that we need to break to try to shy away from ugly facts with respect to North Korea's behavior in the interests of or under the illusion that that will somehow help to maintain the peace," he said.
The president said he is sympathetic and that the international community needs to be mindful of China's security interests with respect to North Korea, saying that he understands when Beijing adopts a "posture of restraint."
But Mr. Obama said there is a difference between restraint and what he called "willful blindness to consistent problems," adding that he hopes President Hu will recognize that this is an example of Pyongyang going "over the line" in ways that have to be discussed seriously. Otherwise, the president said, it will not be possible to have meaningful negotiations with North Korea. He added that the United States and other nations in the six-party talks would like nothing more than to see these issues resolved diplomatically.
In Washington, CIA director Leon Panetta, appearing on ABC television's This Week program on Sunday, down played speculation that the recent skirmishes involving North Korea would lead to a military confrontation on the Korean peninsula.
"Will it result in military confrontation? I don't think so. For forty years, we've been going through these kinds of provocations and skirmishes with a rogue regime. In the end, they always back away from the brink. And, I think they'll do that now," he said.
He added that the Korean Peninsula is in "a dangerous period" because of efforts by North Korea's ailing 68-year-old leader, Kim Jong Il, to secure his youngest son's place as successor.
Mr. Obama's remarks at the end of the G20 summit came after the smaller Group of Eight industrialized nations issued a strong rebuke of North Korea over the sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.