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Lee and Obama agree to united North stance

U.S. president says rocket launch to spur UN resolution  PLAY AUDIO

Apr 03,2009
U.S. President Barack Obama, left, meets with President Lee Myung-bak at the ExCel Center in London, yesterday, ahead of the G-20 summit. [YONHAP]
LONDON - Reaffirming their commitment to rid North Korea of its nuclear arms program, the leaders of South Korea and the United States agreed yesterday to take serious and coordinated action with the international community to counter Pyongyang’s threatened rocket launch.

If North Korea fires a rocket as announced, the international community must act in unison, possibly referring the matter to the United Nations Security Council, President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed, said Lee’s spokesman, Lee Dong-kwan.

“The two leaders agreed that the missile firing will be an undeniable violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718,” the spokesman said. “President Obama particularly said a new resolution to sanction the North is under preparation.”

The 30-minute meeting between Lee and Obama took place at ExCel Center in London, the venue of the G-20 summit, early in the morning. That was shortly before world leaders sat down at a multilateral discussion table to hammer out a global agreement to fight what many believe to be the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

During their first bilateral summit, Lee and Obama agreed to cooperate for the complete and verifiable ending of North Korea’s nuclear arms program and to move the stalled implementation of the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement forward, the Blue House said.

“Lee and Obama agreed that they will not tolerate not only the North’s possession of nuclear arms, but also its nuclear proliferation,” Blue House spokesman Lee said.

“They also agreed that the South Korean leader will visit the United States and have another bilateral meeting on June 16,” he added.

How to end the North’s nuclear arms program and to respond to the threatened launch of a suspected long-range missile were the most extensively discussed items at the Lee-Obama meeting, a senior Blue House source said. Pyongyang has said it will launch a communications satellite between April 4 and 8, but the international community suspects the move is a disguise for a long-range missile test, an act in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718.

The resolution, adopted after North Korea’s nuclear test in 2006, bars the North from engaging in any further ballistic missile activities. It also allows the UN member nations to impose economic and trade sanctions against the North as punishment for missile-related activities.

Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso addressed the issue on Wednesday at a bilateral summit.

Obama also sought support of Pyongyang’s long-time allies on the matter during his earlier summits with Chinese and Russian leaders

“We also expressed concern that a North Korean ballistic missile launch would be damaging to peace and stability in the region and agreed to urge the DPRK to exercise restraint and observe relevant UN Security Council resolutions,” Obama and Dmitry Medvedev said in a joint statement issued after their summit. DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

While South Korea, the United States and Japan have seen North Korea’s attempt to launch a long-range missile as a violation of the UN resolution, China and Russia, which have veto power in the UN Security Council, have been reluctant about imposing more sanctions on the North over the latest crisis.

Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao also discussed concerns over the upcoming rocket launch. Obama told Hu that the U.S. would consider such an act provocative and that the U.S. would seek UN Security Council punishment in response, the Associated Press reported.

At yesterday’s summit, Lee and Obama also agreed to work together to move the free trade agreement between the two countries forward, Lee’s spokesman said. South Korea and the United States hammered out the FTA in April 2007. The last step remaining before actual implementation is ratification at the two nations’ legislatures.


Ratification at the South Korean National Assembly has faced a political deadlock. In the U.S., both the Obama administration and the Congress have been critical of the Bush-negotiated deal.

“The free trade agreement has a grave significance not only for economic perspective, but also in terms of strategic perspective of the bilateral alliance,” a senior Blue House official quoted President Lee as telling Obama during the summit. “The FTA will contribute greatly to develop U.S.-Korea relations further in the future.”

A senior Lee aide said the Obama administration is giving serious thought to the FTA.

It is too early to say whether the U.S. government wants to ratify the accord as it is or after a slight modification, the source said. “When a submarine moves, it doesn’t make a turn as fast as a motorboat,” the official said about the sentiment in Washington.

The two leaders also agreed to cooperate to coordinate Seoul and Washington’s macroeconomic policies and prevent the spread of trade protectionism. They also agreed to the need for stimulus packages through increased government spending around the world.

According to the Blue House officials and pool reporters, the atmosphere of the first summit between Obama and Lee was affable. Shortly before he sat down for talks with Lee yesterday, Obama addressed the press briefly. Obama said he and Lee “have a great range of issues to discuss - defense and peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

The U.S. president also thanked Korea for its support in trying to stabilize war-torn Afghanistan. The Blue House said Lee and Obama agreed to cooperate in reconstruction of Afghanistan and Pakistan.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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