South Korea President Park Geun-hye speaks during a news conference with… (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated…)
WASHINGTON – President Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye presented a united front in their warning to North Korea on Tuesday, saying they would not bend to confrontational behavior and welcomed international pressure on the North’s young leader.
The United States and South Korea “very much share the view that we are going to maintain a strong deterrent capability,” Obama said standing beside the new South Korean leader at a news conference. “But we remain open to the prospect of North Korea taking a peaceful path of denuclearization, abiding by international commitments, rejoining the international community.”
The North Korean security threat was at the top of the agenda for Park’s first trip to the White House since her election, a visit that comes amid heightened tension with North Korea. Park took office in February just two weeks after the North conducted its most recent nuclear test.
Park repeated her warning that North Korea would “pay” for any military provocation that jeopardizes the safety of South Koreans. Speaking through an interpreter, she told reporters such military action “is something that we cannot just pass over.”
But the South Korea leader also had encouraging words for China and Russia, who appear to be using their influence to urge North Korea’s 30-year-old leader, Kim Jong Un, to back off the threats of additional nuclear tests and attacks on the U.S. and South Korea.
“Such constructive efforts on the part of China and Russia are vital to sending a unified message to North Korea that their nuclear weapons will not stand and encouraging and urging North Korea to make the right decision,” Park said.
Just before the White House meeting, the Bank of China announced that it had closed the account of a North Korean bank. The move was one in a series of signs that Beijing has grown weary of its ally's nuclear ambitions.
Asked about his impression of North Korea’s leader, Obama did not analyze Kim but suggested he was following in his late father’s footsteps.
“I haven't had a conversation with him, can't really give you an opinion about his personal characteristics,” the president said, adding that Kim should “evaluate that history and take a different path.”
Before meeting with Obama, Park visited a Korean War memorial. She is to address Congress on Wednesday.
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