Obama takes look from DMZ, finds ‘time warp’ in North Korea
Warns against planned rocket launch
SEOUL | Fresh from his first visit to the Demilitarized Zone, President Obama repeatedly said Sunday and Monday that North Korea would bring more misery on itself if it proceeds with the planned launch of a longrange rocket and other provocations.
“North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations,” Mr. Obama said Sunday during a news conference in South Korea, where he was to attend a nuclear security summit.
It was a message he reiterated Monday morning in a speech at Hankuk University in Seoul, where he called on Pyongyang’s leaders to cease their
provocative behavior toward the rest of the world.
“The United States has no hostile intent toward your country,” Mr. Obama said, addressing North Korea. “We are committed to peace. But by now it should be clear, your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek, they have undermined it.”
Referring to a jeopardized deal to provide food aid to North Korea in exchange for suspending its nuclear programs, Mr. Obama said, “There will be no rewards for provocations. Those days are over. To the leaders of Pyongyang, I say this is the choice before you. Have the courage to pursue peace and give a better life to the people of North Korea.”
The speech came a day after the president went for the first time to the DMZ, the heavily patrolled no-man’s land between the two Koreas, where he peered through binoculars at North Korea.
“It’s like you’re in a time warp,” Mr. Obama said at Sunday’s press conference. “It’s like you’re looking across 50 years into a country that has missed 40 years or 50 years of progress.”
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak went further than Mr. Obama in their joint news conference, demanding that North Korea “repeal” its announcement that it would launch a satellite using a long-range rocket in mid-april. The U.S. and South Korea say the missile launch would violate a U.N. ban on nuclear and missile activity.
Earlier Sunday, Mr. Obama gazed into North Korea through binoculars at the DMZ and told U.S. troops stationed there that they are part of a “long line” of soldiers preserving freedom for South Korea.
“You guys are at freedom’s frontier,” Mr. Obama told about 50 troops at a dining hall in Camp Bonifas. “The contrast between South Korea and North Korea could not be clearer, could not be starker. I could not be prouder of what you do.”
From that location just outside the DMZ, Mr. Obama and his entourage crossed into the border region for a photo-op glimpse of the communist north from a strategic lookout called Observation Post Ouellette.
The president, wearing a brown leather bomber jacket, looked through binoculars as two military escorts explained various geographical features of the DMZ. Mr. Obama could be heard by reporters nearby asking about the population of a village in North Korea about 71/ miles away.
The president spent about 10 minutes at the lookout post. A U.S. Embassy staffer earlier warned reporters that the North Koreans might sound alarms at noon local time (11 p.m. EDT Saturday) while Mr. Obama was at the post to commemorate the 100th day since the death of dictator Kim Jongil. No sirens were heard.
The president, during his hourlong visit to the DMZ, told U.S. troops that they are upholding an important commitment that began at the end of the Korean War nearly 60 years ago. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.
“When you think about the transformation that has taken place in South Korea in my lifetime, it is directly attributable to this long line of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen who were willing to enable South Korea to obtain freedom and opportunity,” Mr. Obama said.
He said Mr. Lee once confided to him in a private moment that he would not have been able to rise from a childhood of poverty to his prominence without the help that the U.S. military has provided to his nation.
Mr. Obama told the troops that the success of South Korea has to do with their “resilience” and hard work, “but it also has to do with you guys.”
“There’s something about this spot . . . such an obvious impact that you’ve had every day,” he said. “We’re grateful to you; we’re proud of you.”
Mr. Obama arrived in South Korea early Sunday to begin three days of talks about nuclear nonproliferation involving leaders from 53 nations and four international organizations, in addition to visiting the DMZ.
It’s the president’s third visit to South Korea.
As the nuclear security summit began Monday, Mr. Obama told the students at Hankuk that the United States has a “unique responsibility” to lead global efforts to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles and to deter nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran.
“I say this as president of the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons,” Mr. Obama said in his speech.
He also told his Korean hosts Monday that he envisions a day when the two sides of the divided peninsula will be reunited.
“Change will unfold that once seemed impossible,” Mr. Obama said. “Checkpoints will open. Watchtowers will stand empty. Families long separated will finally be reunited. The Korean people, at long last, will be whole and free.”