Obama urges North Korea to change
US President Barack Obama and his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, have urged North Korea to return to international nuclear negotiations. The two leaders, speaking at a joint press conference in Seoul, promised the North major economic aid in return.
They also agreed to make progress on a free trade agreement signed in 2007, which has still not been ratified. The meeting came on the last day of Mr Obama’s Asian tour, which was designed to revive US diplomacy in the region. He has already visited Japan, Singapore and China.
Mr Obama described Mr Lee as his “good friend” and said his welcome to South Korea had been “spectacular”. The BBC’s John Sudworth in Seoul says the visit stressed the close, warm relationship between the conservative Mr Lee and Mr Obama.
The US president was greeted by friendly roadside crowds and given a Tae Kwon Do uniform and honorary black belt. He said he was looking forward to a Korean barbecue lunch. The two leaders reaffirmed their unity of view and approach on the North Korea issue.
They said they were seeking to break the pattern whereby the North would raise tensions, agree to talks and then back off without making progress. “The thing I want to emphasise is that President Lee and I both agree that we want to break the pattern that existed in the past, in which North Korea behaves in a provocative fashion, and then is willing to return to talk… and then that leads to seeking further concessions,” Mr Obama said.
“I hope that by accepting our proposal, the North will secure safety for itself, improve the quality of life for its people and open the path to a new future,” said Mr Lee. Mr Obama said his nuclear envoy, Stephen Bosworth, would be visiting North Korea on 8 December.
The two men also spoke of trade tensions and the need to move forward in their economic relationship. Both Mr Obama and South Korean officials have said obstacles to a yet-to-be ratified free trade agreement must be addressed.
“If automobiles are a problem, we are in a position to discuss them again,” Mr Lee said, in a shift from a previous refusal to renegotiate the biggest free trade pact involving the US for years.
“I told President Lee and his team that I am committed to see the two countries work together to move this agreement forward,” Mr Obama said. South Korea deployed 13,000 police and soldiers for Mr Obama’s visit, but pro-US demonstrators heavily outnumbered protesters in central Seoul.
Many of the protesters who did turn out urged the US president to do more about North Korea’s human rights record. In October North Korea said it was willing to return to multi-party negotiations on its nuclear programme, but it has said it wants direct negotiations with the US first.
The US has said it is willing to engage directly with North Korea, but only as part of a return to six-party forum that Pyongyang pulled out of in April. The six-party talks involve the two Koreas, China, the US, Russia and Japan. Tensions have risen in recent months after North Korea launched a series of missiles and conducted an underground nuclear test – drawing UN sanctions in response.