President Barack Obama on Thursday demanded North Korea cease provocations on the divided peninsula, but held out the prospect of economic aid and respect if it abandons its nuclear arms program.
Obama also urged Chinese President Hu Jintao to use his influence over Pyongyang to convince the reclusive state to refrain from provocative acts against the South.
Tensions on the peninsula sank to their lowest level in over a decade in March when the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, was torpedoed, killing 46 sailors.
There have been a number of other incidents on the peninsula over the past year, including a deadly naval skirmish, artillery fire by the North and Pyongyang has threatened war.
An international investigation found the North responsible for the Cheonan sinking, but Pyongyang has said it was not involved.
China has refused to take sides over the sinking of the Cheonan. The United Nations, under pressure from Beijing, only condemned the sinking without pointing the finger.
Subsequently, the North said it wanted to restart the nuclear disarmament talks it walked out of two years ago, but Seoul and Washington have said the North must first show sincerity in its pledges to denuclearize.
“I reaffirmed our conviction that in the aftermath of the sinking of the Cheonan, North Korea must address South Korea’s concerns and end its belligerent behavior,” Obama told a joint news conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
“Likewise, North Korea needs to fulfill its obligations to eliminate its nuclear weapons program. Only by meeting its responsibilities — and not threatening others — will North Korea find real security and respect.
“And I want to reiterate that along with our South Korean and international partners, the United States is prepared to provide economic assistance to North Korea and help it integrate into the international community, provided that North Korea meets its obligations.”
Lee said that he and Obama “reaffirmed the point that North Korea must show a genuine gesture and responsible attitude on the Cheonan incident and that would be the starting point of improvement in South-North ties.”
Seoul had previously demanded the North apologize for the sinking of the Cheonan, but South Korean officials have said that is now no longer a prerequisite.
The United States is one of five regional powers, along with Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, involved in stalled six-party talks on dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program.
North and South Korea are technically still at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
OBAMA VISITS MILITARY BASE
During a visit to a U.S. military base in downtown Seoul, Obama urged North Korea to engage with the international community or risk making the lives of its people even harsher.
“North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons will only lead to more isolation and less security. But there is another path available to North Korea,” he told U.S. troops in South Korea in a Veterans Day ceremony to commemorate the Korean War.
“If they choose to fulfill their international obligations and commitments to the international community, they will have the chance to offer their people lives of growing opportunity instead of crushing poverty,” Obama told a cheering crowd of 1,400 troops packed into a gymnasium.
The event comes a few weeks after the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, which began when North Korea invaded the South, the legacy of which sees 28,500 U.S. troops still stationed in South Korea.
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