Obama warns N Korea over rocket launch

[3/25/2012 12:00:00 AM]

US President Barack Obama has visited US troops stationed on South Korea's border with North Korea in a show of solidarity with Seoul, ahead of a global summit there on nuclear security.

Obama flew on Sunday by helicopter to a US base on the edge of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) to meet troops and take a first-hand look at one of the world's most heavily fortified frontiers.

Obama and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak held a joint press conference in Seoul later in the day when they once again called on North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons programme.

Obama also criticised North Korea's intention to conduct a rocket launch next month, saying: "This would constitute a direct violation of Pyongyang's own commitments and its international obligations.

"Moreover it would only deepen North Korea's isolation, damage further its relations with its neighbours, and seriously undermine prospects of future negotiations. North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations."

North Korea announced this month that it plans to send a satellite into orbit, a move Washington has condemned as a violation of its promise to halt long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and uranium enrichment.

Obama warned that a deal to resume stalled food aid to the North, agreed earlier this month, could be jeopardised if Pyongyang goes ahead with the launch.

Defence capabilities

South Korea's Lee said: "If North Korea gives up its pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile development and instead chooses a path towards peace and co-operation, our two countries will work together, along with the international community, to help improve the lives of the people in North Korea and provide necessary assistance that will help North Korea open up a new era."

"President Obama and I agreed that we will continue to enhance and strengthen our combined defence capabilities and at the same time firmly respond to any threats and provocations from the North," he added.

AMMONNEWS - The White House cast Obama's first visit to the DMZ, the four-kilometre wide strip that has divided the peninsula since the end of the Korean War in 1953, as a way to showcase the strength of the US-South Korean alliance and thank some of the more than 20,000 US troops still deployed there.

"You guys are at freedom's frontier," he told about 50 troops. "The contrast between South Korea and North Korea could not be clearer, could not be starker, both in terms of freedom and in terms of prosperity."

Although the conflict between North Korea and South Korea has effectively been frozen for nearly 60 years, the countries remain technically at war because their conflict ended with a truce agreement rather than a formal peace treaty.

Obama will join more than 50 other world leaders for a follow-up to the inaugural nuclear security summit he organised in Washington in 2010 to help combat the threat of nuclear terrorism.

While the issues of North Korea and Iran are not on the guest list or the official agenda, they are expected to be the main focus of Obama's array of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the two-day summit.

Reporting from Seoul, Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett said: "The White House says nuclear terrorism is the number one threat to US national security. This summit is the half-way point of a four-year process with an ambitious goal of trying to lock down nuclear materials around the world.

"[North Korea] will be talked about extensively. There are a number of bilateral meetings happening."

North Korea mourning

A South Korean military spokesman told the AFP news agency on Sunday that North Korea had moved the main body of a rocket to a launch site in the country's northwest.

The North has announced it will fire the rocket to put a satellite into orbit between April 12-16 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding President Kim Il-sung.

Obama's visit to the DMZ also coincided with the end of the 100-day mourning period for the North's long-time leader, Kim Jong-il, who died in December.

Flags flew at half-mast in "every nook and corner" of the country and sirens and whistles sounded at midday, state media said. North Koreans "overcome with grief" observed three minutes' silence.

The state's new young leader, Kim Jong-un, the third member of the Kim family to rule the state, bowed before a portrait of his father at the palace where he lies in state.

* Al Jazeera and agencies

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