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World Leaders Meet for Nuclear Summit in South Korea

March 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to the international summit to reduce nuclear weapons and to stop the spread of nuclear material.

The venue, as much as the agenda, has set the tone, as 50 world leaders gathered in Seoul, South Korea. Just days before the summit began, North Korea, which may have at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons, announced a missile test. It insisted it was to launch a satellite.

In response, President Obama reinforced a U.S. commitment to South Korea, visiting the heavily fortified demilitarized zone with nearly 30,000 American troops stationed nearby.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The contrast between South Korea and North Korea could not be clearer, could not be starker.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And he chastised the government of Kim Jong-un, the new North Korean leader, at a joint news conference with the South Korean president, Lee Myung-Bak.

BARACK OBAMA: I’ll simply say that North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or by provocations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last month, the U.S. announced a deal to provide food aid to North Korea, while the North insisted it would suspend missile tests and uranium enrichment and allow U.N. nuclear inspectors back in.

The president raised the North Korean issue and Iran’s nuclear status with China’s President Hu Jintao today. White House officials said he urged the Chinese to try to do more to influence Pyongyang.

Later, Mr. Obama met with Dmitry Medvedev, president of Russia, the world’s other major nuclear power. Russia has opposed U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe, prompting this exchange in a private moment.

BARACK OBAMA: This is my last election. And after my election, I have more flexibility.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, Russian president: I understand you. I transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Vladimir is, of course, Vladimir Putin, Medvedev’s predecessor and now his elected successor.

Russian cooperation also remains key to agreements to reduce superpower nuclear arsenals, as well as to resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue, as the guessing game over whether Israel will strike Iran continues. Russian and American officials did discuss how to cut their strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals.

The president, who has made a nuclear-free world a goal, said this today.

BARACK OBAMA: We have more nuclear weapons than we need. I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tomorrow’s summit-ending communique will focus on the drive to lock down nuclear material scattered in countries all over the world by 2014.