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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 261 (May 9, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

Seoul, Washington Reaffirm United Front on Pyongyang, Not Tolerate N.K. Provocations

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The leaders of South Korea and the United States on May 7 reaffirmed their commitment to deal sternly with North Korean threats and provocations, stressing that such bad behavior will only deepen Pyongyang's isolation.

   In a choreographed show of unity, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S President Barack Obama pledged to bolster defense cooperation and demanded that North Korea change course on its nuclear program before any new talks. But the two leaders said they are keeping the door for dialogue with North Korea open.

   "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. "The president and I noted that it is important that we continue to strengthen our deterrence against North Korea's nuclear and conventional weapons threats."

   Park made the remarks during a joint news conference after her first summit talks with Obama since taking office in February. The meeting came as the North has shown signs of softening its war rhetoric after threatening nuclear attacks against the South and the U.S. for weeks.

   Park said she wants to send a clear message to the North that it "will not be able to survive if it only clings to developing its nuclear weapons at the expense of its people's happiness. Concurrently pursuing nuclear arsenal and economic development can by no means amount to success."

   Still, Park said South Korea and other members of the international community are willing to provide assistance to the North if the communist nation chooses the path to becoming a responsible member of the community.

   She said Seoul and Washington will work jointly to encourage North Korea to make the right choice through multifaceted efforts, including the implementation of her "Korean Peninsula trust process."

   Obama said South Korea and the United States are "as united as ever" over North Korea. "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," Obama said. "In short, the days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions, those days are over."

   The White House summit drew intense media and public attention as it could set the tone for relations between the two countries for years to come. Park and Obama met hours after North Korea's military launched its latest threat,
The meeting came as the communist country recently ratcheted up its hostile rhetoric and actions in anger over new U.N. sanctions for its Feb. 12 nuclear test and U.S.-involved military drills in the South.

   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.

   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.

   Park and Obama agreed to break the "vicious cycle" of rewarding the North's bad behavior.

   "We're not going to reward provocative behavior," Obama said. "But we remain 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."

   Obama 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."

   Obama said that he and Park agreed in talks that they will not "reward provocative behavior" but keep the door open to eventual talks if North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un decides to embrace "a peaceful path."

   Park also pledged to make North Korea "pay" a price for provocations and bad behavior.

   "If they engage in military provocations and harm the lives of our people and the safety of our people, then naturally, as president who gives the top priority to ensuring the safety of our people, it is something that we cannot just pass over," she said.

   Park said she will "fully trust the judgment of our military" in case of North Korean attacks. "So if our military makes a judgment which they feel is the right thing, then they should act accordingly. And these are the instructions that I had given," she said.

   During the summit, the two countries also adopted a joint declaration that commemorates the 60th anniversary of the alliance between the two countries and charts a new course for a relationship forged in blood during the 1950-53 Korean War.

   The declaration reconfirmed the robust U.S. security commitment to South Korea's defense and calls for bolstering economic cooperation and working closely together with North Korea for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

   "Building on the past sixty years of stability on the Korean Peninsula, we continue to strengthen and adapt our Alliance to serve as a linchpin of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific and to meet the security challenges of the 21st century," the declaration said.

   "The United States remains firmly committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea, including through extended deterrence and the full range of U.S. military capabilities, both conventional and nuclear," it said.

   The declaration said that the two allies will continue to try to "bring North Korea into compliance with its international obligations and promote peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, including through the trust-building process initiated by President Park."

   The trust process is Park's trademark policy on North Korea. It is a two-track approach of pressure and flexibility toward Pyongyang, under which Park has pledged strong retaliation against any provocations while at the same time calling for dialogue and exchanges to foster trust and reduce tensions.

   How much Obama will embrace the approach has been a focus of attention. During Tuesday's press conference, Obama said the policy "is very compatible with my approach and the approach that we have been taking together for several years now."

   Also discussed at the summit was Park's vision for peace in Northeast Asia. Dubbed "the Northeast Asia peace and cooperation initiative," the plan calls for Asian nations to enhance cooperation, first on nonpolitical issues such as climate change and counterterrorism, before expanding the trust that was built through such cooperation to other areas. It is a broader version of Park's "Korean Peninsula trust process."

   Park arrived in Washington on May 6 from New York, where she met with South Korean-born U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. On May 8, she delivered a speech before a joint session of Congress.

   Park also emphasized that the North will have to make a right choice as early as possible, as the South is ready for inter-Korean talks and cooperation. "We also shared the view that realizing President Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons should start on the Korean Peninsula," Park said.

   Obama said he agrees with Park's approach toward North Korea revolving around a vision of bringing peace and stability to the peninsula through a process of building mutual trust.

   Observers say the two leaders 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.

   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.

   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."

   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.

   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.

   Obama also praised Park for handling the North Korea tensions in a calm yet resolute manner, in the same way she overcame personal tragedies, losing both parents to assassinations, and rose to become South Korea's first female president.

   "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.

  (END)
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