SEOUL, South Korea – In a display of unity against North Korea’s provocations, President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye warned Pyongyang on Friday that it could face tougher sanctions if it follows through with threats to launch a fourth nuclear test.
Striking an even harsher tone, Park also suggested any test would trigger an undesirable nuclear arms race in the region and render further nuclear negotiations pointless.
Obama also said the United States will consider delaying the handover to South Korea of wartime command of that country’s forces.
The U.S. had been pushing the Seoul government to stick to the December 2015 target to assume wartime control of its 640,000 troops. America maintains more than 28,000 soldiers in South Korea to help guard one of the world’s most heavily armed borders, and the countries carry out annual drills that North Korea calls a rehearsal for invasion.
Also Friday, Obama paid homage to American military service, and to the loss suffered by South Koreans with the April 16 sinking of the Sewol ferry.
Obama proposed holding a moment of silence, then offered Park a U.S. flag that flew over the White House the day the ferry capsized as a sign of Americans’ sympathy for the loss of “so many young people, students who represented the vitality and the future of this nation.”
“The Korean people draw great strength and courage from your kindness,” Park responded.
Earlier, Obama laid a wreath in honor of those Americans who died in the Korean War at the National War Memorial adjacent to the Yongsan U.S. Army garrison.
2 takes on talks
U.S. and Japanese officials gave starkly different assessments Friday of key trade negotiations, as Obama left Tokyo without a final agreement on a deal to improve access to Japanese markets for U.S. producers.
A senior Obama administration official said the two countries had achieved a “breakthrough” in their effort to help advance a broader, 12-nation free trade accord known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But Akira Amari, a Japanese state minister in charge of the trade talks for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, said in Tokyo that several issues were still unresolved.
The White House views the TPP – whose 12 negotiating countries account for 40 percent of global gross domestic product – as a critical component of Obama’s strategy to shift U.S. foreign policy engagement toward Asia.
Some U.S. domestic manufacturers are critical of the concessions the Obama administration is entertaining, saying the trade deal would allow Japanese competitors to further penetrate the American market without providing the same level of access in return.