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North Korea a 'grave threat' to the world, President Barack Obama says

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak on Tuesday became the first foreign leader in President Barack Obama’s presidency to make a joint appearance with him in the Rose Garden. 

Associated Press

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak on Tuesday became the first foreign leader in President Barack Obama’s presidency to make a joint appearance with him in the Rose Garden. 

WASHINGTON — Declaring North Korea a "grave threat" to the world, President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged that the United States and its allies will aggressively enforce fresh international penalties against the nuclear-armed nation and stop rewarding its leaders for repeated provocations.

Obama said the world must break a pattern in which North Korea puts the globe on edge, only to put itself in line for concessions if it holds out long enough.

"We are more than willing to engage in negotiations to get North Korea on a path of peaceful coexistence with its neighbors, and we want to encourage their prosperity," Obama said in the Rose Garden with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak. "But belligerent, provocative behavior that threatens neighbors will be met with significant and serious enforcement of sanctions that are in place."

Emboldened by fresh assurances of protection by the United States, Lee went even further in warning that North Korea's tactics will not be tolerated. Asked whether he feels that his country is under the threat of attack from the North, Lee said his country's alliance with the United States will "prevent anything from happening."

He said of the North Koreans, "They will think twice about taking any measures that they will regret."

North Korea conducted its second nuclear test on May 25 after a series of missile launches. The United Nations Security Council last week imposed new sanctions that toughen an arms embargo against North Korea and authorize ship searches in an attempt to thwart the Koreans' nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The United Nations, however, did not authorize military force to enforce the measures.

Lee was the first foreign leader in Obama's nearly 5-month-old presidency to make a joint appearance with him in the Rose Garden. He spoke repeatedly of his nation's firm partnership with the United States and thanked the American people "for their selfless sacrifice in defending my country and its people."

Trade deal: Lee told representatives of top U.S. companies that "now is the time to step up" and ratify a free trade deal that he said would strengthen the countries' alliance. But U.S. lawmakers say such a deal could hurt an already suffering American auto industry. Obama said earlier Tuesday that he wants to make sure differences over autos are settled before the deal is sent to Congress for ratification.

Missiles seen as threat to U.S.

North Korea's missiles could be made capable of hitting the United States in as few as three years if the rogue nation continues to ramp up its weapons system, Pentagon officials said Tuesday. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on missile defense, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn pointed to Pyongyang's recent steps to accelerate its long-range weapons program and agreed with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that the United States should be prepared for a "worst-case scenario." Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee it would take at least three to five years for North Korea to pose a real threat to the West Coast.

Officials say journalists confessed

Two U.S. journalists admitted during their trial that they crossed into North Korea illegally, and they confessed to committing their crimes because of political motives, the North's official news agency reported Tuesday. The report by the state-run Korea Central News Agency represented the North Korean government's most detailed account to date of the shadowy circumstances surrounding the arrest, trial and conviction of Laura Ling, 36, and Euna Lee, 32, both journalists for San Francisco-based Current TV. They were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor on charges of illegal entry and committing hostile acts.

Times wires

North Korea a 'grave threat' to the world, President Barack Obama says 06/16/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 10:47pm]

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