Obama: Nuclear-Armed N. Korea Is 'Grave Threat' President Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, meeting at the White House, agree that a new U.N. resolution seeking to halt North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles must be fully enforced.
NPR logo Obama: Nuclear-Armed N. Korea Is 'Grave Threat'

Obama: Nuclear-Armed N. Korea Is 'Grave Threat'

President Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Tuesday vowed to end North Korea's pattern of building up its nuclear program to gain economic concessions, saying the North poses a "grave threat" to the world and the global community will no longer tolerate continued acts of belligerence.

Obama said the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China and Russia are committed to halting North Korea's nuclear program and preventing the communist nation from weapons proliferation. He said world leaders will discuss interdiction of North Korean vessels carrying weapons in coming months.

"There's been a pattern in the past where North Korea behaves in a belligerent fashion, and then, if it waits long enough, is rewarded with foodstuffs and fuel and concessionary loans and a whole range of benefits. We are going to break that pattern," Obama said at a White House news conference with Lee. "Belligerent, provocative behavior that threatens neighbors will be met with significant, serious enforcement of sanctions that are in place."

Lee echoed Obama's resolve, saying South Korea is committed to denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. "We agreed that under no circumstance are we going to allow North Korea to possess nuclear weapons," he said.

Tensions have been high since North Korea staged its second underground nuclear test May 25; the country's first test was in 2006. Despite Friday's United Nations Security Council resolution calling for tougher sanctions on the North, the government is said to be preparing to test a missile that could reach Alaska.

Asked whether he is concerned that North Korea will launch an attack on the South, Lee was doubtful. "They may wish to do so, but they will not be able to do so," he said.

Obama reiterated that there are avenues for North Korea to be integrated into the world community and gain prosperity for its citizens, and he encouraged the government in Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons program and allow verification.

Even as Obama renewed the United States military support for the Seoul government, the leaders announced plans for expansion of the U.S.-South Korean military alliance into a comprehensive relationship that includes partnerships on social, cultural, political and economic issues.

On the second day of his three-day visit, Lee has also pushed for implementation of a free trade agreement between the two countries, meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Trade Representative Ron Kirk on the issues.

The two countries painstakingly negotiated a free trade agreement two years ago, but it has failed to move forward. Although experts have said the deal would open new trade avenues in both countries, lawmakers worry that some provisions could hurt struggling U.S. automakers.

After Tuesday's meeting with Lee, Obama expressed support for free trade and vowed not to resort to protectionist measures in the face of a worldwide recession. But he said there is more work to do because of South Korea's concerns about U.S. beef and the U.S. concerns about the auto industry.

"These are all understandable, legitimate issues for negotiation. What I've done is to affirm to President Lee that we want to work constructively with the Republic of Korea, in a systematic way, to clear some of these barriers that are preventing free trade from occurring between our two countries," Obama said.

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