- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fresh from his first visit to the Demilitarized Zone, President Obama said Sunday that North Korea would bring more misery on itself if it proceeds with the planned launch of a long-range rocket.

North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference in South Korea, where he was to attend a nuclear security summit.

The president spoke hours after his first visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the heavily patrolled no-man’s land between the two Koreas, where he peered through binoculars at North Korea.

“It’s like you’re in a time warp,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s like you’re looking across 50 years into a country that has missed 40 years or 50 years of progress.”

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak went further than Mr. Obama in their joint news conference, demanding that North Korea “repeal” its announcement that it would launch a satellite using a long-range rocket in mid-April. The U.S. and South Korea say the missile launch would violate a U.N. ban on nuclear and missile activity.

Mr. Obama said the launch would jeopardize a deal, reached last month, for the U.S. to provide food aid to North Korea and could bring more economic sanctions for the isolated nation.

“Bad behavior will not be rewarded,” Mr. Obama said. “There had been a pattern, I think, for decades in which North Korea thought if they had acted provocatively, then somehow they would be bribed into ceasing and desisting acting provocatively.”

Earlier Sunday, Mr. Obama gazed into North Korea through binoculars at the DMZ and told U.S. troops stationed there that they are part of a “long line” of soldiers preserving freedom for South Korea.

“You guys are at freedom’s frontier,” Mr. Obama told about 50 troops at a dining hall in Camp Bonifas. “The contrast between South Korea and North Korea could not be clearer, could not be starker. I could not be prouder of what you do.”

From that location just outside the DMZ, Mr. Obama and his entourage crossed into the border region for a photo-op glimpse of the communist north from a strategic lookout called Observation Post Ouellette.

The president, wearing a brown leather bomber jacket, looked through binoculars as two military escorts explained various geographical features of the DMZ. Mr. Obama could be heard by reporters nearby asking about the population of a village in North Korea about 7 1/2 miles away.

The president spent about 10 minutes at the lookout post. A U.S. Embassy staffer earlier warned reporters that the North Koreans might sound alarms at noon local time (11 p.m. EDT Saturday) while Mr. Obama was at the post to commemorate the 100th day since the death of dictator Kim Jong-il. No sirens were heard.

The president, during his hourlong visit to the DMZ, told U.S. troops that they are upholding an important commitment that began at the end of the Korean War nearly 60 years ago. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

“When you think about the transformation that has taken place in South Korea in my lifetime, it is directly attributable to this long line of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen who were willing to enable South Korea to obtain freedom and opportunity,” Mr. Obama said.

He said Mr. Lee once confided to him in a private moment that he would not have been able to rise from a childhood of poverty to his prominence without the help that the U.S. military has provided to his nation.

Mr. Obama told the troops that the success of South Korea has to do with their “resilience” and hard work, “but it also has to do with you guys.”

“There’s something about this spot such an obvious impact that you’ve had every day,” he said. “We’re grateful to you; we’re proud of you.”

Mr. Obama arrived in South Korea early Sunday to begin three days of talks about nuclear nonproliferation involving leaders from 53 nations and four international organizations, in addition to visiting the DMZ.

It’s the president’s third visit to South Korea.

Although the focus of the international summit will be to prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear material, Mr. Obama will devote much of his time to discussing ways to reduce tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea and to pressure Iran to stop developing nuclear weapons.

He will give a speech largely devoted to those two nations Monday at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.

Among those who greeted Mr. Obama upon his arrival in South Korea were Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea; Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the combined United States, United Nations and Republic of Korea forces; Col. Patrick McKenzie, commander of the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan Air Base; and Chang Jae-bok, deputy chief of protocol for South Korea.

The summit is the largest gathering of foreign heads of state ever to meet in South Korea.

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