US President Barack Obama will be travelling to South Korea this weekend to attend its Nuclear Security Summit early next week. Mr. Obama also plans to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) situated on South Korea’s border, on the first day of his trip.
The Nuclear Security Summit is a two-day conference which will bring together a total of 53 countries and four international organizations. All of the countries involved in the six-party talks that aim to find a peaceful resolution to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program will be present. However, Iran and North Korea, two countries that perhaps need to be at the summit the most, will not be in attendance. The focus of the summit will be on the issue of preventing terrorists from getting nuclear and radioactive materials.
Nonetheless, although nuclear weapons and proliferation issues are not on its formal agenda, North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear activities are expected to feature as two of the more prominent topics at the summit. According to South Korean foreign minister Kim Sung-hwan, “there is no question that… [there are] serious concerns about the illegitimate nuclear activities of North Korea and Iran”. Late last week, North Korea announced that it would go ahead with a plan that intends to send a missile-launched satellite into orbit. This is despite the disapprovals and criticism it received from the international community, who fear that the development of missiles for the launch will act as a cover-up for the country’s nuclear weapons development program.
White House national Security Council senior director for Asia Daniel Russel has expressed hope that China, North Korea’s closest ally, will “bring all the instruments of power to bear to influence the decision-making in North Korea”. China was one of the many countries who voiced concern with regards to North Korea’s satellite launch.
North Korea has warned that any criticism of its nuclear weapons program during the summit would be considered as a “declaration of war”. A statement released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency said that “if there is any provocative act such as the issuance of a so-called statement concerning ‘the North’s nuclear’ issue at the Seoul conference, it would constitute an extreme insult…and its consequences would serve as great obstacles to talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” This is not the first time North Korea has threatened war when its nuclear weapons program is condemned.
On another note, US deputy national security adviser has pointed out that Mr. Obama’s visit to DMZ will be seen as “underscoring the president’s support for the American troops who are serving on the Korean Peninsula, and [America’s] support for the Republic of Korea, [which is its] very close and strong treaty ally”.
In addition, Mr. Obama will meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the summit to discuss how to best persuade North Korea to put an end to its nuclear program and forgo the satellite launch plan.
Report: North Korea warns against criticism of nuclear program [New York Times, 21 March 2012]
Report: Obama to visit DMZ, raise pressure on North Korea [Reuters, 21 March 2012]
Report: Obama to make first visit to Korean demilitarized zone [CNN, 21 March 2012]
Report: Obama agenda at Seoul Nuclear Summit shaped by campaign [Bloomberg, 21 March 2012]