President Barack Obama said Tuesday that North Korea can no longer create an international crisis with nuclear provocations, asserting the United States and South Korea are fully capable of defending themselves.
“The days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions, those days are over.” Obama said from the White House East Room, after he and South Korean President Park Geun-hye met privately in the Oval Office.
Obama’s comments came in a news conference with Park on her first foreign visit as the country’s leader. It marked the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
Obama said that Pyongyang has failed to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea or to garner global respect with its threats. He says the joint U.S.-South Korea meeting at the White House was evidence that North Korea has “failed again.”
Ahead of the meeting, U.S. officials said North Korea has taken a step back from its recent escalation of regional tensions by removing from its launch site a set of medium-range ballistic missiles that had been readied for possible test-firing.
Obama says he doesn’t know North Korean leader Kim Jung Un personally and has never spoken to him, but says he can still take a different path. He said actions by the unpredictable young leader, who came to power after the death of his father Kim Jong Il in December 2011, seem to pursue a dead end.
“There’s going to have to be changes in behavior,” Obama said. “We have an expression in English: ‘Don’t worry about what I say; just watch what I do.’”
Park arrived at the White House with a color guard lining the driveway from Pennsylvania Avenue. Her Oval Office meeting, working lunch and joint news conference with Obama will be followed Wednesday by an address to a joint meeting of Congress.
Obama said such an address is an honor “reserved for our closest of friends.” He called Park “tough,” spoke of a great friendship between the two nations and joked that “the Korean wave” of culture has hit the United States.
Park has had something of a debut of fire since she took office in February, two weeks after North Korea’s latest atomic test ratcheted up tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula and undermined her hopes of forging a more trusting relationship with a difficult neighbor.
“Instead of just hoping to see North Korea change, the international community must consistently send the message with one voice, to tell them and communicate to them that they have no choice but to change,” Park said.
Park touched down in New York on Monday, meeting first with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister who praised her “firm but measured” response to North Korean provocations and determination to resolve their differences through dialogue.
However, Park made clear in an interview on the eve of her visit that she was willing to get tough on North Korea. She told CBS News that if South Korea came under attack, “We will make them pay.”
Park, the first democratically elected female leader in Northeast Asia, is no stranger to Seoul’s Blue House, as the residence of the chief executive is known. She’s the daughter of the late South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, and in her 20s she took over the duties of first lady for five years after a gunman claiming orders from North Korea killed her mother in a botched attack targeting her father.