Watchful Obama warns North Korea

US President urges Pyongyang to cancel its plans to fire a long-range rocket next month

Seoul

US President Barack Obama peered through his binoculars into North Korea on a first visit to its tense border with the South yesterday, and then returned to Seoul to give a clear warning of real consequences if Pyongyang presses ahead with plans to launch a long-range rocket next month.

Although the talk was carefully vague, Mr Obama strongly hinted that the US would hold back on 240,000 tons of emergency food aid as promised in "the leap year agreement" reached between US and North Korean envoys on February 29 in Beijing. At the time, North Korea promised a moratorium on testing of long-range missiles as well as nuclear warheads. "It would be difficult," said Mr Obama, "to move forward with that package if they showed themselves unable to meet commitments even a month later."

Here for a two-day nuclear security summit with leaders from more than 50 nations and international agencies that starts today, Mr Obama stood beside South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak in a show of solidarity to underline worries about the test. The US and South Korean presidents used rhetoric rather than specific threats, however, to dissuade Pyongyang from firing the rocket, which North Korea says is to launch a satellite, not to perfect a missile with a theoretical range as far as the west coast of the US. "We've presented to them an opportunity to take a different path from the one they are taking," Mr Obama said. "They need to understand that bad behaviour will not be rewarded."

Mr Obama indicated he would appeal to China's President Hu Jintao to do more to get the North to cease and desist. "The question is what the Chinese are doing," the US President said.

His visit to the demilitarised zone between the Koreas said as much as his words in reaffirming US commitment to the Korean peninsula. On the basis of his observations across the line, Mr Obama said North Korea was "like a time warp, a country that missed 40 to 50 years of progress" and was unable "to deliver any indicators of well-being for its people". He seemed intensely curious about what he was seeing, asking about a village several miles inside North Korea and the route of the line between the two Koreas.

Just south of the line, he chatted with US troops sharing duties with South Koreans in and around the truce village of Panmunjom, where the Korean War armistice was signed in July 1953.

"I could not be prouder of what you're doing," he said to about 50 of them, the vanguard of 28,500 American soldiers still in South Korea. "You guys are at freedom's frontier."

While he was there, reports circulated here that North Korea was transporting its rocket by train to the launch site. The prospect of a cancellation of Pyongyang's plans appeared remote, considering it is slated to come against the backdrop of massive observances on 15 April of the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung, the founding leader and grandfather of Kim Jong-un, who took over in December after his father, Kim Jong-il, died.

"The situation remains unsettled," said Mr Obama. "It's not clear who's calling the shots." Whoever's really in charge, the President surmised, "they have not yet made that strategic pivot where they say what they're doing is not working."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor