With North Korea set to test a nuclear weapon, Middle East peace negotiations all but dead and Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, President Obama on Friday reassured Americans and global allies that he can “worry about a bunch of different problems at once” and his administration is capable of dealing with the array of foreign crises that have popped up in recent days.
Mr. Obama arrived in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday amid reports that North Korea is poised to conduct its fourth nuclear missile test of the past decade — a clear attempt by the reclusive and antagonistic regime to overshadow the American president’s visit.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama reiterated that his administration is ready and willing to impose new economic sanctions on Russia if it does not pull back from Ukraine and stop pro-Russian forces from destabilizing parts of the country.
The president also doubled down on peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, though he admitted the immediate prospects aren’t good.
The growing number of foreign policy fires led to questions Friday about whether North Korea’s nuclear ambitions would be pushed to the back burner, or whether Mr. Obama should abandon Middle East peace to focus his attention elsewhere.
The president dismissed both of those suggestions at a press conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
“I think it’s fair to say that one of my jobs as president is to worry about a bunch of different problems at once and not pick and choose which problems I have the luxury to worry about,” Mr. Obama said.
On North Korea, Ms. Park confirmed the nation is “ready now” to detonate another nuclear weapon, perhaps while Mr. Obama still is on the Korean peninsula.
Mr. Obama condemned that looming test and said North Korea’s nuclear ambitions remain a top priority for his administration.
“The United States and South Korea stand shoulder-to-shoulder both in the face of Pyongyang’s provocations and in our refusal to accept a nuclear North Korea,” he said. “Threats will get North Korea nothing other than greater isolation and we’re united in the steps Pyongyang needs to take, including abandoning their nuclear and ballistic weapons programs and living up to their international obligations.”
The president also rejected the assertion that it’s time to give up on peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The U.S.-backed peace process appears all but dead after a number of setbacks, the latest being Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas entering into a deal with terrorist group Hamas.
“Realistically, there is one door [to peace], and that is the two parties getting together and making some very difficult decisions,” Mr. Obama said. “Do I expect they will walk through that door next week, next month, or even in the course of the next six months? No. Are we going to continue to try to offer constructive approaches that could lead them to go ahead and take those steps? Absolutely, and I make no apologies for that. It’s the right thing to do.”
The administration also has additional targeted sanctions “ready to go” if Russia continues its aggressive posture in Ukraine. Mr. Obama said he remains in “constant” contact with European allies and insisted, as he did on other foreign policy matters, that the Ukrainian crisis will not be overshadowed by other global challenges.