SEOUL — Seeking to lead by example on the nuclear dangers posed by North Korea and Iran, President Obama said Monday he'll pursue talks with Russia to further reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
"I’m confident that, working together, we can continue to make progress and reduce our nuclear stockpiles," Mr. Obama said at Hankuk University at the start of a two-day summit on nuclear security with more than 50 world leaders.
In an address that focused largely on North Korea's belligerence, the president said the U.S. has a "unique responsibility" to show the rest of the world the way to reduce nuclear arsenals and halt development of new weapons. The focus of the summit is preventing terrorists from obtaining nuclear weapons.
"The United States has a unique responsibility to act—indeed, a moral obligation," Mr. Obama said. "I say this as president of the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons."
Mr. Obama took the unusual step of speaking directly to North Korea's leaders via his teleprompters in Seoul.
"The United States has no hostile intent toward your country," Mr. Obama said. "We are committed to peace. But by now it should be clear, your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek, they have undermined it."
Referring to a jeopardized deal to provide food aid to North Korea in exchange for suspending its nuclear programs, Mr. Obama said, "There will be no rewards for provocations. Those days are over. To the leaders of Pyongyang, I say this is the choice before you. Have the courage to pursue peace and give a better life to the people of North Korea."
But even before Mr. Obama spoke, there were signals that North Korea is moving ahead with plans for a rocket launch in mid-April. South Korean media, quoting government sources, reported Monday that North Korea has transported the main body of a long-range missile to a launch site in the northwestern part of that country.
The Japanese government said in response that it will deploy three Aegis warships to intercept the North Korean rocket.
North Korea says it is launching a satellite to commemorate the 100th year of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-sung. But the announcement has raised tensions on the Korean peninsula, where Mr. Obama visited the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries Sunday.
The setting for Mr. Obama's speech was similar to venues that he favors back home — s university crowd dominated by adoring students. The audience interrupted Mr. Obama frequently with applause.
The president said he would seek to build upon the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) he struck in 2010 with outgoing Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev.
It trims U.S. and Russian arsenals of deployed warheads by about 30 percent
Mr. Obama said he would pursue with incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin in May a step "we have never taken before—reducing not only strategic nuclear warheads, but also tactical weapons and warheads in reserve."
"Missile defense will be on the agenda, but I believe this should be an area of cooperation, not tension," Mr. Obama said.
On Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, Mr. Obama said he would discuss with the leaders of Russia and China later Monday "to achieve a resolution in which Iran fulfills its obligations."
But the president received the most intense interest from the overwhelmingly Korean audience when he spoke sternly to North Korea and talked of a day when the two Koreas would unite. He reminded the crowd that East and West Germany were ultimately reunited at the end of the Cold War.
"The currents of history cannot be held back forever," Mr. Obama said. "The day all Koreans yearn for will not come easily or without great sacrifice. But make no mistake, it will come. And when it does, change will unfold that once seemed impossible. Checkpoints will open. Watchtowers will stand empty. Families long separated will finally be reunited. The Korean people, at long last, will be whole and free."
Mindful of rising oil prices and of the importance of commercial nuclear energy in South Korea, Mr. Obama extolled "the astonishing benefits that nuclear technology has brought to our lives."
"Nuclear technology helps make our food safe," he said. "It’s the high-tech medicine that treats cancer and finds new cures. And, of course, it’s the energy—the clean energy—that helps cut the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.