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Obama Calls for North Korea to Have Courage to Pursue Peace

South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak (L) poses with U.S. President Barack Obama as he arrives for a working dinner at the Nuclear Security Summit at the Convention and Exhibition Center in Seoul, March 26, 2012.
South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak (L) poses with U.S. President Barack Obama as he arrives for a working dinner at the Nuclear Security Summit at the Convention and Exhibition Center in Seoul, March 26, 2012.

U.S. President Barack Obama's discussions Monday with the leaders of Russia and China appear to have yielded no breakthroughs regarding concerns about North Korea and Iran. The meetings came hours after the president delivered a speech in the South Korean capital calling on the North Koreans to "have the courage to pursue peace" and "take irreversible steps" to meet their international obligations.

Nuclear tensions with North Korea and Iran were the focus for Obama and many of the other leaders now in Seoul for the Nuclear Security Summit.

Chinese President Hu Jintao met Monday with both South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and, then, President Obama to discuss an upcoming North Korean missile launch.

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes says the Chinese leader told Obama Beijing is taking the planned launch seriously and expressing its concerns to Pyongyang. But that may not be enough to satisfy Washington, with Rhodes acknowledging the Chinese need to look at going beyond the “types of messages and warnings” they have been giving the North Koreans.

At the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, the president said he wanted to directly convey to the leaders in Pyongyang, less than 200 kilometers away, the United States has no hostile intent - but that they should know further provocations will have consequences.

"Your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek, they have undermined it. Instead of the dignity you desire, you are more isolated. Instead of earning the respect of the world, you have been met with strong sanctions," said Obama.

The United States and South Korea are warning the North it faces more sanctions if it goes ahead next month with what Pyongyang terms a "space launch."

Many members of the international community say that would violate existing sanctions forbidding North Korea from utilizing ballistic missile technology.

South Korean army Colonel Yoon Won-shik says the military here will take action if the multi-stage missile veers over this country's territory.

Yoon, a defense ministry spokesman, says the military will attempt to shoot down any parts of the missile that veer from the planned trajectory and crosses South Korea.

In Tokyo, Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka says not only will PAC-3 surface-to-air missiles be deployed in the Ryukyu islands for next month's North Korean launch, they will also be placed adjacent to the defense ministry headquarters in central Tokyo.

The Japanese defense minister says, to eliminate public anxiety, he will soon give orders to the Self Defense Forces and will make a decision on issuing a command to intercept and destroy the missile if it passes over Japan.

Obama's meetings Monday with the Chinese and Russian leaders also addressed suspicions about the true intent of Iran's nuclear program.

The White House says the U.S. and Russian presidents agreed there is still a window of opportunity to pursue a diplomatic solution. Mr. Obama, in his speech, earlier in the day, warned Tehran that time for diplomacy was running out.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.
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