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Threat of Escalation by North Korea Looms Over Summit With Park Geun-hye

May 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: And we return to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, as the threat of further escalation loomed over a White House summit today.

The day began with a new warning on North Korean state television aimed at joint U.S./South Korean naval drills in the yellow sea.

WOMAN: First, Korean people’s army units in the southwestern sector of the front will take immediate counteractions in case even a single shell drops over the territorial waters on our side. Second, in case the enemies recklessly counter our counterstrikes, all striking forces will turn the five islands in the West Sea of Korea into a sea of flames.

JEFFREY BROWN: The new threat of from the North and its young leader, Kim Jong-un, follows several months of tough talk and actions, while the U.S. and South Korea conducted joint military exercises that were seen in turn as provocations by the North.

In December, North Korea test-launched a long-range rocket. In February, it carried out another underground nuclear test, its third to date. And when the U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions as a result, the North renounced the armistice that ended the Korean War, and then insisted it would fire off more mid-range Musudan missiles.

Despite North Korea’s threat, there were no launches and U.S. officials now report the North has removed the weapons from a launch site. Against that backdrop, President Obama held a White House summit today with South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye, followed by a joint news conference

PRSIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The days when North Korea could create a crisis and illicit concessions, those days are over. Our two nations are prepared to engage with North Korea diplomatically and over time build trust. But, as always, and as President Park has made clear, the burden is on Pyongyang to take meaningful steps.

PRESIDENT PARK GEUN-HYE, South Korea: We will be no means tolerate North Korea’s threats and provocations, which have recently been escalating further, and that such actions would only deepen North Korea’s isolation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Park took office in February, becoming South Korea’s first female president. She’s the daughter of Park Chung-hee, who took power in a military coup and ruled South Korea in the 1960s and ’70s before being assassinated.

The new president came to power seeking to improve relations with the North, but her tone has changed with events. In an interview with CBS News yesterday, Park warned that her country will meet any aggression in kind.

PRESIDENT PARK: Yes, we will make them pay.

JEFFREY BROWN: Still, President Park has also said that if the North relents on its nuclear program, she’s prepared to resume aid shipments and economic initiatives.