U.S. President Barack Obama
Pool/Yonhap News via Bloomberg
Obama Warns NKorea Rocket Jeopardizes Future Negotiations
Yonhap News via Bloomberg
President Barack Obama warned North
Korea its plan to fire a long-range rocket undermined prospects
for future negotiations as the military in Seoul said Kim Jong Un’s forces had moved the missile to its launch site.
Obama, who peered through binoculars into the North as he
toured the Demilitarized Zone yesterday, spoke at a meeting in
the South Korean capital with President Lee Myung Bak. He’ll
hold talks today with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and
Chinese President Hu Jintao as they gather for a nuclear
security summit aimed at keeping fissile material out of the
hands of terrorists.
Kim, who took over when his father Kim Jong Il died in
December, is putting at risk 240,000 metric tons of food aid
from the U.S. even as many of his people go hungry. Obama, who
faces an election this year, is using his trip to increase
pressure on North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programs.
The rocket launch “would constitute a direct violation”
of North Korea’s commitments and obligations and “seriously
undermine the prospects of future negotiations,” Obama said.
“North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or by
There are 28,500 U.S. forces in South Korea, facing off
against a North Korean military that has placed 70 percent of
its ground forces within 90 kilometers of the DMZ, including
about 250 long-range artillery systems capable of striking the
Seoul area, according to U.S. Forces Korea.
“Long-range rocket launches are worrisome because they
could improve North Korea’s weapons technology, serving as a
chance to test missile systems that can carry nuclear
warheads,” said Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korean
studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.
Obama said during his news conference with Lee that he will
press China’s Hu in their meeting to take a tougher stance
toward North Korea to fulfill its international obligations and
move toward denuclearization. North Korea is dependent on energy
and food assistance from China, which has sought to support its
neighbor to avoid unrest that could hinder trade and prompt a
wave of refugees across its border.
“My suggestion to China is that how they communicate their
concerns to North Korea should probably reflect the fact that
the approach they’ve taken over the last several decades hasn’t
led to a fundamental shift in North Korea’s behavior,” Obama
Obama met Lee at the presidential Blue House less than two
weeks after the two nations’ free-trade pact came into effect
and as their militaries continue war games aimed at deterring
any aggression from the regime in Pyongyang.
“The contrast between South Korea and North Korea could
not be clearer,” Obama told troops at Camp Bonifas on the edge
of the DMZ. “Both in terms of freedom but also in terms of
The president stopped for about 10 minutes at Observation
Post Ouellette, within 100 yards (90 meters) of the demarcation
line that was drawn at the end of the Korean War in 1953. U.S.
and South Korean troops make foot patrols from the post, which
has four guard towers and underground bunkers.
Obama looked into North Korea, where guard posts, the
industrial complex at Gaeseong and sparsely vegetated hillsides
and fields are visible from Ouellette. South Korean
manufacturers employ North Korean workers at the Gaeseong
complex, which has kept running even as political tensions rise.
It was like peering into “a time warp” of a half-century
of missed progress, Obama said at his press conference with Lee.
A North Korean flag flew at half mast in the distance as
the totalitarian regime yesterday marked 100 days since the
death of Kim Jong Il.
Lee and Obama said they weren’t prepared to make strategic
assessments of Kim Jong Un. Obama added that North Korea’s long-
term objectives weren’t clear and it was difficult to see
“who’s calling the shots” in the country.
North Korea and Iran aren’t participants in the two-day
Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, where the focus will be on
preventing radioactive material from getting into the hands of
terror groups. The legacy of the Soviet Union’s breakup,
inadequate atomic stockpile controls and the proliferation of
nuclear-fuel technology mean the world may be awash with
unaccounted-for weapons ingredients, ripe to be picked up by
North Korea described the event as a platform for an
“international smear campaign” against it, according to a
statement on March 23 carried by the official Korean Central
South Korea was the U.S.’s seventh-largest goods trading
partner, with $88 billion in total for 2010, according to the
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Pressure on Iran
The free-trade agreement between the two nations is the
biggest for the U.S. in almost two decades. It will cut about 80
percent of tariffs between them and may increase U.S. exports as
much as $10.9 billion in the first year it’s in full effect,
according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.
He is also using his meeting with world leaders to ratchet
up economic pressure on Iran in an effort to persuade it to
abandon any illicit part of its nuclear program. The U.S.,
Europe and Israel have accused Iran of seeking the capability to
build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its program is for civilian
energy and medical research.
North Korea’s announcement of a mid-April rocket launch
will make it difficult to move forward with a Feb. 29 U.S. aid
deal and broader efforts to get the regime back to negotiations
on its nuclear weapons program, Obama said. The South Korean and
U.S. militaries are aware that North Korea has moved the
fuselage of a long-range missile to an indoor launch site at
Tongchang-ri in the nation’s northwest, South Korea’s Joint
Chiefs of Staff told reporters in Seoul yesterday.
The planned rocket launch is designed to put a satellite
into orbit and is “an issue quite different” from the Feb. 29
agreement, an unidentified spokesman for the North Korean
Foreign Ministry said in a statement on KCNA on March 23.
North Korea will “inevitably” be compelled to take
countermeasures against “any sinister attempt” to hinder its
planned rocket launch, the spokesman said.
To contact the reporters on this story:
Julianna Goldman in Washington at
Margaret Talev in Washington at
Sangwon Yoon in Seoul at
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Peter Hirschberg at