Obama Takes Stern Tone on North Korea and Iran
Appearing at a joint press conference with President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, Mr. Obama singled out Iran, where leaders have apparently rejected an offer from the West to take Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium to another country to turn it into fuel rods, which would buy time for diplomatic negotiations.
“We’ve seen indications that for internal political reasons or perhaps because they are stuck in some of their own rhetoric, they are unable to get to ‘yes,’ ” Mr. Obama said. “As a consequence, we have begun discussion with our international partners” on sanctions, he said.
He said that over the next few weeks the United States would be developing a package of “potential steps we can take that will indicate our seriousness.”
Mr. Obama’s words were his strongest to date and seemed to signal that he was ready to move to sanctions.
On the North, Mr. Obama said he was sending his North Korea envoy to Pyongyang next month for talks designed to try to get the nation back to the bargaining table. But he warned that even getting the North back to the table would not be enough.
“I want to emphasize that President Lee and I both agree on the need to break the pattern that existed in the past in which North Korea behaves in a provocative fashion, then is willing to return to talks, and then talks for a while, and then leaves the talks and seeks further concessions,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama’s visit to Seoul is the last — and perhaps easiest — leg of an Asia trip in which he was forced to deal with a newly assertive Japan and an increasingly powerful China.
South Korea quickly proved true the predictions that it would be more accommodating to Mr. Obama, with whom Mr. Lee has been cooperating closely on key issues, including efforts to eventually halt North Korea’s nuclear program.
On Thursday morning, the Koreans put on a rousing welcoming ceremony for Mr. Obama. On the terraced lawn in front of the Blue House, the presidential offices in Seoul, a colorful array of ceremonial guardsmen, band members and local children greeted Mr. Obama, playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and waving American flags.
South Korean government officials and diplomatic analysts said that the visit represented a chance for Seoul to raise its profile with the Obama administration by stressing its reliability as a partner in Asia.
Mr. Lee is more closely aligned with American policy than were his liberal predecessors, who saw President George W. Bush’s tough stance on North Korea as counterproductive, and he was elected on a platform of getting tough with Pyongyang. But Mr. Lee has been criticized by the left for his decision to send more aid workers and a small military contingent to Afghanistan in support of the American-led effort there.
During large antigovernment protests last year over beef imports from the United States — an issue that tapped into an undercurrent of anti-American feelings — Mr. Lee was accused of kowtowing to American leaders. In anticipation of demonstrators this visit, the government says it will deploy about 13,000 police and soldiers.
The only potential point of contention on the visit was that Washington still was not moving to ratify a free-trade agreement agreed upon two years ago. Mr. Obama said that he wanted to get it done but acknowledged that “there is obviously a concern in the United States of the incredible trade imbalances that have grown in the past few years.”