Obama Asks China To Help Halt N. Korean Rocket The U.S. recently agreed to provide North Korea with food assistance, and it was hoped that this would help calm tensions in the region. But under its new leader, North Korea is now planning a rocket launch next month that's making everyone uneasy.
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Obama Asks China To Help Halt N. Korean Rocket

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Obama Asks China To Help Halt N. Korean Rocket

Obama Asks China To Help Halt N. Korean Rocket

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Melissa Block.

And in this part of the program, the nuclear threat. Top leaders from around the world are in Seoul for a two-day summit on nuclear security. And North Korea has thrust itself back into the center of attention with plans to launch a satellite using a long-range rocket. Such a launch would violate the U.N. Security Council resolution as well as North Korean commitments to the U.S. So, when President Obama sat down with China's President Hu Jintao today, the big topic was the nagging problem of North Korea.

NPR's Mike Shuster is covering the meetings in Seoul.

MIKE SHUSTER, BYLINE: It seems that the significant players in the North Korean drama all agree that North Korea would be better advised to cancel its rocket launch set for April. President Obama and South Korean president Lee Myung-bak strenuously warned North Korea not to go ahead.

In a speech today, President Obama used some of the toughest language he has ever used addressed to the leaders of North Korea.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And know this, there will be no rewards for provocations. Those days are over. And to the leaders in Pyongyang, I say this is the choice before you. This is the decision that you must make. Today, we say Pyongyang, have the courage to pursue peace and give a better life to the people of North Korea.

SHUSTER: Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev also urged North Korea to cancel the rocket launch. Mr. Obama held a private meeting with the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, and urged him to use China's influence to change North Korea's behavior. Hu did criticize the launch plan, saying it would be good to abandon it. He told the president he is taking the situation very seriously. Earlier, Mr. Obama publicly expressed some frustration with the Chinese.

OBAMA: What I've said to them consistently is rewarding bad behavior, turning a blind eye to deliberate provocations, trying to paper over these not just provocative words but extraordinarily provocative acts that violate international norms, that's not obviously working.

SHUSTER: In Seoul, President Obama has frequently talked about the bad behavior of North Korea's leaders. The example at hand, recently North Korea and the United States announced what amounted to a freeze-for-food deal. North Korea agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment and missile tests. In exchange, the U.S. pledged to provide a substantial amount of food aid. But soon after, North Korea announced its plan to launch a satellite-bearing rocket.

In the past, President Obama said, that sort of brinksmanship would lead to North Korean gains in its negotiations with the U.S. and with South Korea. But now, the president says, he's not willing to play that game.

OBAMA: There had been a pattern, I think, for decades in which North Korea thought that if they acted provocatively, then somehow they would be bribed into ceasing and desisting acting provocatively. And President Lee and I have agreed from the start of our relationship that we're going to break that pattern.

SHUSTER: The North Korean problem has somewhat overshadowed the summit here, whose goal is to take stock of the improvements in safeguarding dangerous nuclear materials around the globe. This is an issue that the president has focused a good deal of attention on since he took office.

OBAMA: If countries - either historically because of old nuclear programs, or currently in terms of how they operate their nuclear energy facilities - are leaving a bunch of material out there that could potentially fall in the hands of terrorists, that poses an extraordinary threat to the United States, to South Korea and to countries all around the world.

SHUSTER: The president also said he believes the U.S. can make deeper cuts in its nuclear arsenal and still provide protection for itself and its allies. He did not say how deep the cuts could go.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Seoul.

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