Obama Discusses N. Korean Missile at G-20
Thursday, April 2, 2009; 7:25 AM
LONDON, April 2 -- Just before world leaders launched their economic summit, President Obama sat down with South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak Thursday morning to discuss security on the Korean peninsula, including a pending missile launch by North Korea.
The two leaders met at the ExCel Center, where the G-20 summit is being held. Thursday's all-day opening session is aimed at finalizing the summit's main goal -- a statement of unity by of heads of state in managing the global financial crisis.
Senior White House officials said Obama and Lee discussed the missile test that North Korea is expected to launch any day now, despite repeated protests by the United States, Japan and South Korea and disapproval from Russia and China.
While the reclusive North Korean government says the missile test is part of a peaceful research effort to put a communications satellite into orbit, experts outside the country say it is an effort to try out long-range missiles that could eventually be armed with nuclear warheads.
Obama expressed admiration for Lee's "calm resolve" as North Korea has prepared the launch and hurled invective at its neighbors, the senior official said. Obama told Lee North Korea "will not be able to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea" and said a launch would be a violation of Security Council resolutions.
He pledged to consult closely with South Korea before reacting to a launch, if it takes place, and to continue consulting with Japan, which has threatened to shoot down any debris from the missile that could pose a threat to Japanese soil.
"There was striking unanimity of views" between Obama and Lee, the White House official said. "I saw no daylight between the two."
In brief comments to reporters, Obama praised South Korea as one of America's "closest allies and greatest friends."
Officials said Obama stressed to Lee the "unchanging goal of the verifiable elimination of North Korean nuclear weapons and nuclear program." The U.S. has made it clear they do not want the North Koreans to launch a ballistic missile but have said they expect the launch anyway.
Obama told reporters he and Lee had "a great range of issues to discuss -- on defense, on peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, on the outstanding contributions that Korea has made with respect to the Afghanistan situation, and their global role and global leadership on issues like climate change." Lee did not make comments to reporters.
Aides to Obama said the president invited Lee to visit Washington on June 16, and Lee accepted.
The languishing U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement also was discussed at the meeting, the senior official said. Obama acknowledged that political opposition to the pact in both the U.S. and South Korea meant that passing it would take time, but said he wanted the effort to move forward.
Obama told Lee he appreciated the vocational and medical assistance South Korea has provided to Afghanistan, the White House official said. The U.S. is expecting more of that type of support from South Korea, and expects South Korean officials to attend an upcoming Pakistan donors conference, the official said.
After the sit-down, the two world leaders joined their counterparts from around the globe for breakfast and the summit's plenary session.
The official communique from the summit is expected by late morning East Coast time. Obama is scheduled to meet privately with leaders from Saudi Arabia and India and to hold a press conference at 12:30 pm Eastern.
Wilgoren reported from Washington.