US President Barack Obama met on Tuesday with South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the White House, on her first foreign visit since taking office.
The meeting also marked the 60th anniversary of the US-South Korean alliance.
High on the agenda were rising tensions with North Korea.
At a joint news conference following their Oval Office meeting, Obama said Pyongyang could no longer create an international crisis with nuclear provocations, asserting the United States and South Korea are fully capable of defending themselves.
“The days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions, those days are over.” Obama said from the White House East Room.
He said the US and South Korea are “prepared to engage with North Korea diplomatically and over time,” but he said “the burden is on Pyongyang to take meaningful steps to abide by its commitments.”
Obama said he doesn’t know North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally and has never spoken to him, but says he can still take a different path.
He said actions by the unpredictable young leader, who came to power after the death of his father Kim Jong Il in December 2011, seem to pursue a dead end.
“There’s going to have to be changes in behaviour,” Obama said. “We have an expression in English, ‘Don’t worry about what I say, just watch what I do.’”
Park has had something of a baptism of fire since she took office in February, two weeks after North Korea’s latest atomic test ratcheted up tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula and undermined her hopes of forging a more trusting relationship with a difficult neighbour.
For her part, the new president said, “Instead of just hoping to see North Korea change, the international community must consistently send the message with one voice, to tell them and communicate to them that they have no choice but to change.”
Ahead of the meeting, US officials said North Korea has taken a step back from its recent escalation of regional tensions by removing from its launch site a set of medium-range ballistic missiles that had been readied for possible test-firing.
Obama also discussed the situation in Syria, saying there are no easy answers to resolving the civil war there.
Obama also said he won’t make decisions that affect regional stability as well as US national security based on just perceptions.
“What I’ve said is that we have evidence that there has been the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, but I don’t make decisions based on ‘perceived’,'” he said.
“We tried that in the past, by the way, and it didn’t work out well. So we want to make sure that, you know, we have the best analysis possible,” Obama added.
Park touched down first in New York on Monday, meeting first with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister who praised her “firm but measured” response to North Korean provocations and determination to resolve their differences though dialogue.
Her Oval Office meeting, working lunch and joint news conference with Obama will be followed on Wednesday by an address to a joint meeting of Congress.
Park, the first democratically elected female leader in Northeast Asia, is no stranger to Seoul’s Blue House, as the residence of the chief executive is known.
She’s the daughter of the late South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, and in her 20s she took over the duties of first lady for five years after a gunman claiming orders from North Korea killed her mother in a botched attack targeting her father.
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