By Chang Jae-soon
WASHINGTON, May 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama wound up their first summit with an unmistakable message to North Korea: Halt provocations and give up nuclear programs or face deeper isolation.
The meeting was watched closely as the two leaders were expected to forge a united front on Pyongyang at a time when the regime shows signs of softening war rhetoric after weeks of nuclear strike threats and other menacing bombast against South Korea and the U.S.
"The president and I reaffirmed that we will by no means tolerate North Korea's threats and provocations ... and that such actions would only deepen North Korea's isolation," Park said during a joint news conference with Obama at the White House.
"North Korea will not be able to survive if it only clings to developing its nuclear weapons at the expense of its people's happiness," she said, referring to the policy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. "Concurrently pursuing nuclear arsenals and economic development can by no means succeed."
The White House summit marked the first time Park has met with Obama since she took office in February. The meeting drew intense media and public attention as it could set the tone for relations between the two countries for years to come.
Park took over as South Korea's first female president as tensions were running high after the North successfully carried out a long-range rocket launch in December and conducted its third nuclear test earlier in February.
Since early March, Pyongyang dramatically ratcheted up the already-high tensions with near-daily threats of war and nuclear attacks on the South and the U.S. in anger over a new U.N. sanctions resolution for its nuclear test and over American-involved joint military exercises in the South.
But in recent weeks, Pyongyang has toned down its rhetoric and begun talking about the possibility of dialogue -- at least with the U.S. That fits the North's pattern of behavior of saber rattling before returning to negotiations for economic and other concessions.
Obama said that Seoul and Washington are strongly united in dealing with North Korea, and that the U.S. is fully prepared to defend South Korea "with the full range of capabilities available," and Washington's security commitment to the Asian ally "will never waver."
"If Pyongyang thought its recent threats would drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States or somehow garner the north international respect, today is further evidence that North Korea has failed again," he said.
Obama said the North will no longer be rewarded for bad behavior.
"In short, the days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions, those days are over," he said.
Still, the two leaders said they are keeping the door for dialogue with North Korea open, and urged the communist nation to make the strategic decision to forgo its nuclear ambitions and become a responsible member of the international community.
"Our two nations are prepared to engage with North Korea diplomatically and, over time, build trust," Obama said. "But as always, and as President Park has made clear, the burden is on Pyongyang to take meaningful steps to abide by its commitments and obligations, particularly the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Obama also urged Pyongyang to follow in Myanmar's footsteps and open up to the outside world.
Park also said South Korea and other members of the international community are ready to provide assistance to the impoverished North if the communist nation chooses the path to becoming a responsible member of the community.
Obama also said the U.S. remains "open to the prospect of North Korea taking a peaceful path of denuclearization, abiding by international commitments, rejoining the international community and seeing a gradual progression in which both security and prosperity for the people of North Korea can be achieved."
He stressed, however, that such a brighter future is possible only when Pyongyang changes its behavior and there have been actions "on the part of the North Koreans that would indicate they're prepared to move in a different direction."
The summit came as Seoul and Washington celebrate the 60th anniversary of their alliance. It was also a chance for Park and Obama to build personal relations that could affect the alliance over the next four years.
In his opening comments, Obama talked about how much South Korea has developed from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War into one of the world's largest economies, with its culture also sweeping around the world.
"And as I've mentioned to President Park, my daughters have taught me a pretty good 'Gangnam Style,'" Obama said, referring to South Korean pop sensation Psy's horse riding dance in the video for the viral song.
Obama also praised Park for handling the North Korea tensions in a calm yet resolute manner, just as she overcame personal tragedies, losing both parents to assassinations, and rose to South Korea's presidency.
"President Park, in your first months in office, South Korea's faced threats and provocations that would test any nation, yet you've displayed calm and steady resolve that has defined your life," he said.
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