President Barack Obama vowed Tuesday to toughen international sanctions against North Korea after its government conducted a test missile launch as world leaders gathered for summits in Asia.
Speaking with reporters after a meeting here with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Obama said that the two agreed to work “diligently together” on the most recent United Nations sanctions against North Korea to close loopholes “and make them even more effective.”
“The entire international community needs to implement these sanctions fully and hold North Korea accountable,” Obama said on the sidelines of a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in his last presidential trip to the continent.
On Monday, North Korea launched three ballistic missiles – a test widely believed to be an effort to garner attention from international summits in Beijing and Vientiane.
Park told reporters that North Korea’s acts were “fundamentally threatening” and that she and Obama had agreed to “respond resolutely” to the defiance of international demands that North Korea end its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
In March, the U.N. Security Council imposed the toughest sanctions in decades on North Korea after it began a round of nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The sanctions subject all cargo in and out of North Korea to inspections, ban exports of natural resources including coal and gold, tighten a weapons embargo and end relationships with outside banks.
Obama believes the U.S. and Korea have to be vigilant in sanctions enforcement, aides said.
“We want to make sure we’re cutting off all the lifelines that North Korea tries to grab onto,” said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.
Obama also said the U.S. was still open to the possibility of talks with North Korea if it were to recognize its international obligations and work to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
“The opportunities for us to dialogue with them are there,” Obama said. The U.S. has no interest in an “offensive approach” to North Korea, he said.
Obama had originally been scheduled to meet on Tuesday afternoon with the controversial new Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, but he canceled that meeting when Duterte threatened to curse at him if he raised questions about Duterte’s human rights record. Obama insisted he would raise that issue, and thus canceled the meeting.