North Korea threat and Obama gaffe overshadow Seoul Nuclear Summit talks


The 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit offered few significant outcomes for the members who attended, especially the United States.  

The conference, was overshadowed by both concerns about North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile activities, as well as a microphone gaffe between President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in which Obama sounded as if he was making concessions with his counterpart. The meeting overall shied away from expanding its mandate to call for concrete steps toward ridding the world of atomic weapons, of which the U.S. and Russia are the biggest holders..

The Summit opened Monday with 53 heads of state and international organizations participating. The summit focused on cooperative measures to combat the threat of terrorism, increase protection of nuclear materials and related facilities, and prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear weapons. Obama also addressed North Korean cooperation with its plans to launch a satellite.  

A new report confirms North Korea’s intention to launch its own weather satellite. Obama urged Pyongyang to call off the launch, and suspended food aid to the country. Washington and Seoul allege that the launch is in reality a ballistic missile test – and both capitals are worried about the rate of advancement of the North Korean missile program. The issue is further complicated by the country’s nuclear capabilities, because adopting more sophisticated delivery capabilities means that mainland USA may be within striking distance of the North Korean arsenal in the short-term.

North Korea announced earlier this month its intention to launch a satellite between April 12 and 16.  Washington believes this violates an agreement reached with the U.S. last month that bans any testing. North Korea has not shown signs of relenting.

Upon his arrival in South Korea earlier this week, Obama visited the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone for the first time and surveyed the North. The president visited with the American troops serving south of the DMZ. There are some 28,500 American soldiers stationed there.

President Obama warned that if North Korea continues with its plans, it will “constitute a direct violation of Pyongyang’s own commitments and its international obligations. Moreover, it would only deepen North Korea’s isolation, damage its relations with its neighbors and seriously undermine the prospects of negotiations.”

He goes on to say that “North Korea will achieve nothing through threats or provocations.”

President Obama has encouraged China – North Korea’s only ally – to step up its pressure on North Korean compliance. Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met on Monday.

Obama earlier this week made the threat to halt food aid to North Korea, aid which was promised in the agreement in return for a partial freeze on nuclear activities and an end to ballistics tests on Pyongyang’s part. The use of a missile to launch a satellite clearly violates this agreement. There have also been talks of further international sanctions if the rocket is launched.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak presented an allied front between Seoul and Washington: “The two countries agreed that North Korea’s announcement of a planned long-range rocket launch is a violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution and an agreement between the United States and North Korea.” He goes on to say, “We concurred that North Korea should immediately withdraw the planned launch and abide by its international obligations.”

Pyongyang claims to have carried out two nuclear tests, the latest in 2009. It is unclear whether they have the technology to attach it to a warhead.