Lee, Obama agree not to reward the North

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Lee, Obama agree not to reward the North


President Lee Myung-bak, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands at a joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington after their meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday. By Oh Jong-taek

WASHINGTON - At their summit talks in the White House, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed that they will break the past pattern of rewarding Pyongyang for bad behavior.

The two leaders also adopted a new vision for the Korea-U.S. alliance, stipulating the provision of “extended deterrence, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella,” as tensions escalated in Northeast Asia over North Korea’s nuclear activity.

During their 50-minute summit at the Oval Office, Lee and Obama discussed North Korea, the future of the 60-year-old South Korea-U.S. alliance and economic cooperation, including the ratification of the two countries’ free trade agreement.

Following the summit, Lee and Obama, both wearing dark suits and sky blue ties, addressed journalists at the Rose Garden of the White House.

Both Lee and Obama said there was a pattern in the past that North Korea was eventually rewarded with food, fuel, concessionary loans and other benefits for its belligerent behavior.

“The message we’re sending - and when I say ‘we,’ not simply the United States and the Republic of Korea, but I think the international community - is we are going to break that pattern,” Obama said. “We are more than willing to engage in negotiations to get North Korea on a path of peaceful coexistence with its neighbors, and we want to encourage their prosperity. But belligerent, provocative behavior that threatens neighbors will be met with significant, serious enforcement of sanctions that are in place.”

Obama also said North Korea will never be acknowledged as a nuclear power for its past behavior, including proliferation of arms. “They have not shown any restraint in terms of exporting weapons, not only to state actors but to non-state actors,” he said.

“We have not come to a conclusion that North Korea will or should be a nuclear power. Given the belligerent way in which they are constantly threatening their neighbors, I don’t think there is any question that it would be a destabilizing situation that would be a profound threat,” Obama said, urging Pyongyang to take the path to become a respectable member of the international community.

“In order to take that path, North Korea has to make a decision and understand prestige and security and prosperity are not going to come through the path of engaging neighbors and threatening violations of international law,” Obama said.

Lee also said he and Obama agreed that a nuclear-armed North is unacceptable. The South Korean president also said that his U.S. counterpart has agreed to the plan for a five-nation dialogue to persuade the North to give up its nuclear arms since Pyongyang is boycotting the six-party talks. The two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States have held a series of nuclear disarmament talks, but have seen only halting progress.

A senior South Korean official said that during the summit Lee proposed a new approach to resolve the nuclear issue. “Seoul, Washington, Beijing, Tokyo and Moscow should first create a package deal which specifies the compensation for Pyongyang’s actual nuclear disarmament,” the source said Lee told Obama. “And then, the United States, as a representative of the five countries, should negotiate with North Korea about the deal.”

At the Rose Garden, Lee also said South Korea wants to maintain the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint venture between the two Koreas that is in jeopardy after the North detained a South Korean worker for about 80 days for alleged political crimes.

Lee said Seoul wants to keep the Kaesong project because not only is it a channel of dialogue but it also employs 40,000 North Korean workers.

Lee also expressed concern about the North’s detention of two U.S. reporters who have been convicted for political crimes. “And once again, I urge in the strongest terms that they release these two American journalists, as well as the Korean worker being held,” Lee said.

At the press conference, Lee also said Obama has reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea, including the nuclear umbrella.

The promise was also detailed in a statement adopted at the summit to reshape the partnership based on changes in the security environment of the 21st century. Measures to further bilateral economic cooperation, including the ratification of the two countries’ free trade agreement, were also included in the statement, titled “The Joint Vision for the Alliance of the Republic of Korea and the United States of America.”

Noting that the South Korea-U.S. mutual defense treaty, signed in 1953, remains the cornerstone of the two countries’ security relationship, the two leaders said in the vision that the bilateral alliance will accommodate the changed security environment of the current time.

“We will maintain a robust defense posture, backed by allied capabilities which support both nations’ security interests,” the joint vision said. “The continuing commitment of extended deterrence, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella, reinforces this assurance.”

The joint vision also stated that South Korea will take the lead role in the combined defense of the nation, supported by U.S. military forces.

The commitment of extended deterrence is an upgraded pledge from the pre-existing promise of nuclear deterrence and it follows the North’s second nuclear test and threats for a new inter-continental ballistic missile test. The United States has promised the nuclear umbrella to its non-nuclear-armed allies of South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Tactical nuclear weapons were deployed to the South in 1978, but they were withdrawn from the country in 1992. In return, the promise of the nuclear umbrella was first stipulated in the joint declaration of the security consultative meeting between Seoul and Washington that year and repeated after the annual consultations until 2005.

Following the North’s first nuclear test in 2006, the term “extended deterrence” was used to define the upgraded U.S. pledge.

While the nuclear umbrella is a political concept, the commitment of the extended deterrence was more a strategic military term.

Under the commitment of extended deterrence, the United States pledges to react to a nuclear attack on its ally with the same capabilities it will use for a strike on U.S. territory. The concept also includes the possibility of pre-emptive use of U.S. nuclear weapons.

“We will work together to achieve the complete and verifiable elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, as well as ballistic missile programs, and to promote respect for the fundamental human rights of the North Korean people,” according to a joint statement about the vision of the alliance.

It also said that the two countries’ economic relations will be strengthened.

“We recognize that the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement could further strengthen these ties and we are committed to working together to chart a way forward,” the statement said.

“The two presidents conversed for about 50 minutes, only accompanied by interpreters,” said Lee Dong-kwan, President Lee’s spokesman. “And then aides for Seoul and Washington joined the meeting for about five minutes and the press conference took place.”

The Blue House spokesman said the summit was mainly devoted to the North Korea issue, while the free trade issue was briefly addressed. Following the media conference was a luncheon, which U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Chief White House Economic Adviser Larry Summers joined.

“The two leaders mostly discussed environmental issues during the luncheon,” the spokesman said. “Because both Korea and the United States emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide, Lee and Obama agreed that they should cut back on the fossil fuel consumption and make efforts for policies of low-carbon, green growth.”

Following the summit, President Lee visited the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. During his meeting with U.S. lawmakers, Lee said he appreciated the continued Congressional support for the development of the two countries’ alliance and measures to resolve the North Korea nuclear crisis.

Lee and the U.S. lawmakers also discussed cooperative efforts to overcome the global financial crisis. The South Korean president expressed his wish to further the two countries’ economic relations, including the free trade agreement, according to a Blue House press release.

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

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