Obama, S. Korea agree on new approach to North

On the final leg of his Asian tour, President Barack Obama declared fresh steps in getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and possible new punishment against Iran for defying efforts to end its own nuclear weapons program.
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009; 2:49 PM

SEOUL -- With none of the tension presented by a rising China and a willful Japan, President Obama's visit Thursday to South Korea was short, congenial in substance and splendid in form.

Ending a sometimes bumpy week-long tour of East Asia, Obama said the welcoming ceremony here -- a glorious, sun-drenched mingling of music, flags and traditional garb -- was the "most spectacular" he has seen in his travels.

In his talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, whose right-of-center government has embraced political cooperation with the United States, Obama also found much to his liking.

They agreed on a common approach to dealing with North Korea, with Obama announcing that his special envoy, Stephen Bosworth, would travel to Pyongyang on Dec. 8 to try to persuade the government of Kim Jong Il to return to stalled six-party disarmament talks in Beijing.

And they played down lingering differences over the U.S.-South Korean free trade agreement, which has not been ratified in either country, primarily because of American objections to South Korean rules that limit U.S. car sales.

At a brief joint press conference, Obama was asked about Iran's indication that it would not ship some of its uranium to Russia for processing, which was to have been the core of an international solution to its nuclear ambitions.

Obama said the United States has started developing "a package of potential steps" to penalize Iran.

"They have been unable to get to 'yes,' " Obama said. "And so as a consequence, we have begun discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences." He did not specify what form they might take.

Obama said he has not given up hope that Iran might yet cooperate.

"I continue to hold out the prospect that they may decide to walk through this door," he said.

During the press conference with Lee, Obama said he and the South Korean leader have agreed that their countries should no longer engage nuclear-armed North Korea in endless, inconclusive disarmament negotiations.

"The thing I want to emphasize is that President Lee and I both agreed on the need to break the pattern that has existed in the past, in which North Korea behaves in a provocative fashion and then returns to talks for a while and then leaves the talks seeking further concessions," Obama said.

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