US is ready to negotiate with longtime adversary North Korea as it has with Iran, but Pyongyang has to be serious about abandoning nuclear weapons, President Barack Obama said Friday.
Obama was speaking after meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, a close ally, who echoed the US leader’s view.
The North has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006 and is developing a mobile ballistic missile that could potentially hit the US.
Obama said Iran had been prepared to have a “serious conversation” about the possibility of giving up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. He said there is no indication of that in North Korea’s case.
International aid-for-disarmament talks with the North stalled seven years ago.
“At the point where Pyongyang says, ‘We’re interested in seeing relief from sanctions and improved relations, and we are prepared to have a serious conversation about denuclearization,’ it’s fair to say we’ll be right there at the table,” Obama told a joint news conference.
However, he added that North Korea’s violation of past agreements called into question its willingness to allow the kind of “rigorous” verification regimes put in place with Iran.
Park’s visit follows heightened tensions this summer at the heavily militarized border between the two Koreas, and speculation that North Korea could be planning another nuclear test explosion or a rocket launch into space using ballistic missile technology.
In a joint statement issued after Friday’s meeting, the US and South Korea said that if North Korea takes such a step, “it will face consequences, including seeking further significant measures by the UN Security Council.”
The statement also said they would never accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.
Park has cultivated closer relations with China as she looks to coax Beijing away from its traditional embrace of Pyongyang. Last month, she prompted handwringing in Washington when she attended a Chinese military parade marking the end of World War II that was snubbed by leaders of most major democracies.
But Obama said he had no problem with Park meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping, and joked that Xi “was in this room, eating my food,” during a state visit to the U.S. last month.
“We want South Korea to have a strong relationship with China, just as we want to have a strong relationship with China. We want to see China’s peaceful rise. We want them to be cooperating with us in putting pressure on the DPRK,” Obama said, referring to the North’s official title, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
But he added that the US would expect South Korea to speak out if China fails to abide by international norms and rules.
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