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White House: Remarks by President Obama and President Lee Myung-bak in Joint Press Conference

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President Obama briefly discussed the North Korean satellite launch at a press conference with South Korean President President Lee Myung-bak:

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
March 25, 2012
Remarks by President Obama and President Lee Myung-bak in Joint Press Conference

Blue House

Seoul, Republic of Korea

6:44 P.M. KST

. . . Q Exactly. Thank you both. A question first for President Obama. Mr. President, in the past you’ve been, particularly when frustrated with China on the issue of North Korea, not shy about telling President Hu that the U.S. will do what’s necessary to protect its national security interest. As you’re meeting President Hu tomorrow, I wonder what message will you give him regarding North Korea. Are you satisfied with the pressure that China has brought to bear on North Korea? Is there more they could be doing? And is it realistic to think that if they pushed hard enough they might persuade the North Koreans not to go ahead with the satellite launch?

And a question for President Lee. As long as my colleague asked President Obama for his views on Kim Jong-un, I’d like to ask you your views. You live here. You’ve paid attention to North Korea for longer than our President has, I daresay. And I just wonder whether you think he is, as the President suggested, still in a very tenuous situation, or whether you see him as really establishing quite some control.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I look forward to my meeting with President Hu tomorrow. Obviously the issue of North Korea will be one among a number of topics that we discuss.

My communications with the Chinese have been very consistent on this issue. It is my firm belief that it is in none of our interests to see either tension and instability on the Peninsula, and it’s not in anybody’s interest to see a nuclearized Peninsula. The Chinese say they agree with that. The question then is, given that they have more influence and closer diplomatic relations with North Korea than any other country on Earth, what are they doing to help guide or encourage North Korea to take a more constructive approach? And that certainly will be a topic of conversation.

Now, I am sympathetic to the fact that they share a border with North Korea; they are deeply concerned about potential instability in that country and what ramifications it might have on China. And it is important to recognize that they have a broad range of equities when it comes to how they operate with North Korea, given that they’re neighbors. But what I’ve said to them consistently is rewarding bad behavior, turning a blind eye to deliberate provocations, trying to paper over these not just provocative words but extraordinarily provocative acts that violate international norms — that’s not obviously working.

So in the same way that North Korea needs to do something new if it actually wants to do right by its people, my suggestion to China is, is that how they communicate their concerns to North Korea should probably reflect the fact that the approach they’ve taken over the last several decades hasn’t led to a fundamental shift in North Korea’s behavior.

And the irony of course is, is that during the last 20 years China has leapt into the 21st centur, in part by abandoning some of the practices that North Korea still clings to. You couldn’t ask for a better model of the difference at least on the economic front that different policies had made.

And again, I believe China is very sincere that it does not want to see North Korea with a nuclear weapon. But it is going to have to act on that interest in a sustained way. And if it does, I think together, between the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Russians, the Chinese and ourselves, I think we can have a real impact. . . .