President Barack Obama will meet with China’s President Hu Jintao next week in Seoul as the United States seeks to keep up pressure on North Korea to negotiate an end to its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea and the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear development will be the backdrop for Obama’s meetings with world leaders, including Hu, at a nuclear security summit March 26-27.
The United States and its partners in the six-party talks have been attempting to restart negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea’s announcement that it plans to launch a satellite atop a long-range rocket has jeopardized a deal that would have North Korea halt nuclear and missile tests in exchange for 240,000 metric tons of food aid.
“There is a path that allows North Korea to have a better relationship with the international community,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters in a briefing.
North Korea and Iran aren’t among the 53 nations taking part in the Seoul summit, which is intended to set goals for securing fissile materials and thwarting nuclear terrorism.
Obama plans a separate meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He also will have a joint news conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Russian and China, along with Japan and South Korea, are part of six-party negotiations on North Korea and are key partners in efforts to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.
In his meetings with Hu and Medvedev, Obama will discuss the situation in Syria, Rhodes said. A government crackdown on a year-long uprising there has cost more than 8,000 lives. Russia and China have blocked two United Nations resolutions calling for stronger action against the government.
On Iran, the Obama is seeking to bolster support for maintaining the bite of sanctions aimed at forcing the Islamic Republic to abandon any plans to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran, the No. 2 producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia, is bracing for a European ban on purchases of its crude set to start in July.
Obama is scheduled to arrive in South Korea on March 25, and one of his first stops will be to the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea.
While Obama has visited South Korea twice as president, this will be his first visit to the DMZ.
“The fundamental message of the trip to the DMZ is underscoring support” for U.S. and South Korean forces, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters in a briefing.
The U.S. has about 28,500 troops in South Korea. North Korea and South Korea remain technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice rather than a treaty.
Obama introduced the concept of a nuclear security summit in a 2009 speech and held the first in Washington in 2010 with the goal of securing the world’s loose nuclear material within four years.
Participating countries will report on how far they have come since 2010 or announce new commitments to secure or remove highly enriched uranium or plutonium, crack down on nuclear trafficking or come into compliance with nuclear agreements.
The U.S. expects the summit will demonstrate there is a “very strong and united front from the international community” in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and material, Rhodes said.
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