- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

LONDON — President Obama joined South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the G-20 economic summit Thursday in calling for a “stern, united” world response if North Korea proceeds with plans to launch a long-range rocket.

The statement came as world leaders gather in London to thrash out a solution to the worst financial crisis in decades and amid news reports that North Korea has begun fueling a long-range rocket in preparation for launch.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Lee met in the morning, before the world leaders settled down to negotiate a deal on how to rescue the global economy.

“They agreed on the need for a stern, united response from the international community if North Korea launches a long-range rocket, and to work together in the course of that,” according to a statement from the South Korean government.

North Korea claims it will send a communications satellite into space between April 4 and 8. The United States and its allies say the plan is a cover for testing long-range missile technology.

President Obama repeated his goal of eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons and that North Korea would not undermine U.S.-South Korea relationships, a White House official told reporters.

“There was a striking unanimity of views” on the missile issue, the official said. “I saw no daylight between the two.”

The official also said the U.S. expects the launch to happen despite the efforts by countries involved in the Six-Party Talks and would not comment on whether intelligence reports show South Korea is indeed fueling the rocket. “The general expectation is that this launch is going to proceed. But we have been making maximum efforts to try to dissuade them, and still hope that they may change their minds,” the official said.

Mr. Lee accepted Mr. Obama’s invitation to visit Washington on June 16.

The two leaders also agreed to work closely on strong measures to stimulate their economies and build international consensus on reform of the international regulatory and supervisory system.

They stressed the importance of avoiding protectionism and economic nationalism. President Obama expressed his strong commitment to the U.S.-ROK alliance, which is essential to maintain peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, and pledged continued cooperation in the ongoing joint efforts to strengthen the alliance further.

The two presidents agreed that the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement could bring benefits to both countries and they committed to working together on that effort. Both leaders share a vision for broadening and modernizing the Alliance to address the challenges of the 21st Century and they decided to explore ideas for increasing regional and global cooperation at their meeting in June.

They urged North Korea to abide by the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and agreed on the need for a unified response by the international community in the event that North Korea launches a long-range missile.

President Obama expressed appreciation for South Korea’s contributions and support for the international effort to promote stability and assistance in reconstruction of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. They promised also to continue to find ways to cooperate in addressing global challenges such as climate change and clean energy technologies.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Lee also discussed their floundering free-trade agreement. Mr. Obama said he was keen to move the process forward but there was “an acknowledgment that it was going to take time,” the official said.

Later in the day, Mr. Obama’s flurry of diplomacy will continue when he sits down with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. His meeting with Mr. Singh is likely to focus on security strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan while oil prices and Middle East peace efforts will be on the agenda in talks with the Saudi leader.

Ahead of an intense day of bargaining and brokering among world leaders, Mr. Obama was one of the first to greet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown outside the ExCel conference center. The close allies have called for unity ahead of the summit and are pushing for governments to spend more to breathe life into their ailing economies.

But strong resistance has come from Germany and France, who say they will refuse to sign any deal that fails to demand tougher action on financial regulation.

“This is a historic opportunity afforded us to give capitalism a conscience, because capitalism has lost its conscience and we have to seize this opportunity,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on the eve of the summit.

“This is nothing to do with ego or temper tantrums, this has to do with whether we are up to the challenges ahead or not,” he said.

Mr Sarkozy, together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has adopted an aggressive tone in recent days, placing the blame for the financial crisis firmly at the door of the United States.

“The crisis didn’t actually spontaneously erupt in Europe, did it?” he said, before turning up conspicuously late for a dinner for G-20 leaders at Number 10 Downing Street Wednesday evening.

Mr. Obama insists that ideological differences among the elite group have been “vastly overstated”. However, the UK’s business secretary Lord Peter Mandelson believes the disagreements are very real.

“I wish they were manufactured, then they would be easily ironed out but they have persisted overnight,” he told the BBC as the leaders arrived at the summit venue.

After sporadic, and often violent, clashes between protesters and police on Wednesday, the mood on London’s streets was far more subdued on the morning of the summit.

Only about 200 people had gathered outside the ExCel center by mid-morning and many placards veered from strictly anti-capitalist messages. “Stop silent genocide in DR Congo,” read one.

A demonstration outside the London Stock Exchange only attracted a handful of protesters who indulged in a giant game of alternative Monopoly featuring, according to organizers, “backhanders, piggybacking, back-stabbing, swindles and scams.”

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