President Obama stood by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Tuesday, saying the United States will break the “pattern” of continuing to reward North Korea’s threatening behavior as part of the international effort to end Pyongyang’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons program.
“There’s been a pattern in the past where North Korea behaves in a belligerent fashion, and if it waits long enough, is then rewarded with foodstuffs and fuel and concessionary loans and a whole range of benefits. … [T]hat’s the pattern that they’ve come to expect,” Mr. Obama said.
Last month, North Korea conducted a nuclear explosion and missile tests despite objections from the international community and, after last week’s vote by the United Nations to expand sanctions, Pyongyang said it would start a uranium-enrichment program and weaponize its uranium.
Mr. Obama said Russia, China, Japan and South Korea all stand with the United States in denouncing the North Korean missile tests and added that the unanimous U.N. sanctions are much tougher than in the past and signal “the degree to which we are serious.”
Mr. Lee said North Korea has long threatened his people and they have always been “firm” and “prepared.”
He said North Korea would not gain anything by “provoking a crisis” and that the strong relations between the United States and South Korea would prevent North Korea from gaining power.
“When they look at the firm partnership and alliance that we have between our two countries, they will think twice about taking any measures that they will regret,” he said. “This very firm alliance that we have between the United States and [South] Korea is going to prevent anything from happening. And of course North Korea may have - may wish to do so, but of course they will not be able to do so.”
Mr. Obama said he and global partners will “make it clear to North Korea it will not find security or respect through threats or illegal weapons.”
He said he would pursue denuclearization “vigorously.”
“There is another path available to North Korea, a path that leads to peace and economic opportunity … [and we’re] urging the North Koreans to take it,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Lee thanked Mr. Obama for America’s “sacrifice for defending my people,” saying South Koreans have a “greater sense of security,” thanks to the United States.
Mr. Lee also mentioned the two U.S. journalists imprisoned in North Korea, calling for their release “without any conditions.”
Mr. Obama did not discuss the journalists.
Pushed after the news conference wrapped up for a reaction to the disputed elections in Iran, Mr. Obama said he does not want to be seen as “meddling” in the elections.
He repeated his stance from Monday that the peaceful protesters being targeted with violence is “of concern.”
“That is not how governments should interact with their people,” he said. “My hope is that the Iranian people will make the right steps in order for them to be able to express their voices, to express their aspirations.”
“How that plays out over the next several days and several weeks is something ultimately for the Iranian people to decide. But I stand strongly with the universal principle that people’s voices should be heard and not suppressed.”
• Christina Bellantoni can be reached at email@example.com.
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