Obama to Discuss North Korea, Iranhttp://online.wsj.com/article/
WASHINGTON—North Korea and Iran are expected to dominate President Barack Obama's trip to South Korea this weekend, as concerns mount about Tehran's nuclear ambitions and Pyongyang's preparations for a satellite launch the U.S. and its allies said they believe is largely for military purposes.
Pyongyang's launch, scheduled for mid-April, could undercut recent White House efforts to ratchet down tensions with North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Eun.
The U.S. said on Wednesday that it is suspending efforts to recover remains of thousands of fallen service members in North Korea, the Associated Press reported.
The North's actions also are clouding Mr. Obama's disarmament agenda, which is being challenged by Iran's continued advances in its nuclear program.
Mr. Obama is set to arrive in South Korea on Sunday to attend the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, a platform for world leaders to discuss ways to contain the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
The real action, however, will take place on the sidelines of the summit, where Mr. Obama is scheduled to hold meetings with the leaders of China, Russia and Turkey.
He also will deliver a speech in Seoul detailing the challenges posed by Iran and North Korea.
U.S. officials warned ahead of Mr. Obama's visit that a launch is likely to unravel a recent agreement to deliver food aid to Pyongyang and could prompt stronger sanctions, a message the president will stress during his two days in Seoul.
"They may choose to deepen their isolation," said Danny Russel, senior Asia director on the White House National Security Council.
"That would be unfortunate, and we think that that would be a mistake that will only exacerbate the problems that North Korea faces and the suffering of the North Korean people," he added.
North Korea's announcement last week that it was preparing to launch a satellite next month also represented an embarrassment for the Obama administration.
The president had resisted directly engaging Pyongyang since taking office in 2009 because of its history of reneging on disarmament commitments. Last month, the new government of Kim Jong Eun publicly pledged to freeze its nuclear and long-range missile programs in exchange for food aid from Washington.
But days later, it said it would launch the satellite, which it said would be in honor of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, arguing that it would be different from a missile test.
U.S. officials said preventing the North Korean launch will be among the top issues raised during Mr. Obama's talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and President Hu Jintao of China.
"We certainly hope and recommend that China bring all the instruments of power to bear to influence the decision-making in North Korea along the lines that President Obama has advocated," said Mr. Russel.
U.S. officials also expect the launch, in particular, to dominate Mr. Obama's meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
"It's a home game for him, so he gets at least half of the agenda," said an administration official working on disarmament issues.
Iran also will be on the agenda for Mr. Obama's meetings with China and Russia, as well as with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
Syria, while not on the summit agenda, also will be part of the president's discussions with those leaders, officials said.
U.S. officials see Mr. Obama's speech Monday at Hankuk University in Seoul as an opportunity for him to articulate how his overall nuclear-security agenda—at the top of which is keeping a nuclear weapon from terrorists—dovetails with the West's current standoff with Iran and North Korea.
"I think there is a very direct connection between the president's achievements on nuclear security and nonproliferation and our efforts to deal with Iran and North Korea," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.
Mr. Obama has made counterproliferation one of his top national security priorities, and the White House has cited the Nuclear Security Summit as an important part of his overall strategy.
At the first summit in 2010, which Mr. Obama hosted in Washington, 47 countries pledged to secure all fissile material usable to build nuclear weapons in a four-year time frame.
White House officials this week said there has been important progress over the past two years to further galvanize the international community to guard against these materials getting loose. Countries such as Kazakhstan have handed over substantial stockpiles of weapons-grade materials to Washington. And the United Nations is working with Washington to establish a nuclear fuel bank, which would provide countries with the nuclear fuel needed to run reactors and reducing their need to produce such materials domestically.
Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a long-serving strongman, while in Seoul as well.
"Eighty percent of the national commitments made in Washington have already been completed, with is a pretty good batting average," said Gary Samore, the White House's top nonproliferation official.
Still, the advances made in the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs in recent years risk undermining the Obama administration's overall record on nonproliferation, said analysts and congressional officials.
Mr. Obama has for three years wanted Congress to ratify a treaty banning the future testing of American nuclear weapons, called the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And the White House hoped to promote internationally the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which would ban the future production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.
As Mr. Obama nears the end of his first term, however, the White House has yet to submit to the Senate any legislation to ratify the test-ban pact. And congressional officials said the White House would lack support for the pact with nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea racing ahead.
Meanwhile, American allies, including Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have resisted American pressure to make formal commitments not to produce nuclear fuel domestically. Mr. Obama has publicly voiced his concerns that should Iran develop nuclear weapons, many other countries in the Middle East will likely follow.
Mr. Obama's policy on nuclear cooperation with allied countries has also drawn criticism of the White House from Congress.
The president signed a nuclear-cooperation agreement in 2009 with the United Arab Emirates that bound the Persian Gulf country not to enrich uranium domestically. Administration officials indicated that the White House would hold the agreement as the "gold standard" for any future deal with foreign governments. But in recent weeks, the State and Energy Departments reversed this decision, suggesting countries like Saudi Arabia would gain nuclear technologies without making similar commitments.
Key senators working on nonproliferation, including Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, have criticized the White House's decision and called for hearings. Such a move, they argue, could directly counter Mr. Obama's pledge to reduce the amount of fissile materials internationally.
"If applied consistently in future agreements, this standard could become a bulwark against further countries engaging in enrichment and…eliminate opportunities for potential proliferators," Sen. Lugar wrote last month in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Obama last visited Asia in November. He arrives in South Korea for two days at an interesting time for a region that has become a top priority for his administration.
In recent months, one of China's closest allies, Myanmar, has taken steps to embrace economic and political overhauls and reorient its foreign policy toward the west. The issue of control of the South China Sea remains a hot-button topic in the region and U.S. officials said Mr. Obama would raise it with President Hu.
The president's initial stop in South Korea will be his first-ever visit to the demilitarized zone. Administration officials said he will use the moment to meet with U.S. troops and send a signal of the U.S. alliance with South Korea.
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