CAEN, France – His patience tested, President Barack Obama on Saturday promised a new and stronger response to defiant North Korea, saying that while he prefers diplomacy he is now taking a “very hard look” at tougher measures. A Pentagon official said no military moves were planned.
Obama’s blunt language seemed to point toward nonmilitary penalties such as financial sanctions against North Korea, either within the United Nations or by Washington alone. U.S. allies in Asia may consider new moves to improve their own military defenses.
“We are not intending to continue a policy of rewarding provocation,” he said, alluding to recent North Korea nuclear and missile tests.
North Korea presents a challenge for Obama, already burdened with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The North poses a military threat to South Korea, with large artillery forces capable of striking Seoul with little or no warning, and previous diplomatic approaches to the North have failed to rid it of nuclear weapons or halt its building of missiles.
“We are going to take a very hard look at how we move forward on these issues, and I don’t think that there should be an assumption that we will simply continue down a path in which North Korea is constantly destabilizing the region and we just react in the same ways by, after they’ve done these things for a while, then we reward them,” Obama said.
Administration officials have talked in recent days of possible further penalties against North Korea, already one of the most isolated nations.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with South Korea’s foreign minister, Yu Myung-Hwan, in Washington on Friday amid indications the reclusive communist government was preparing to test a missile that could reach U.S. territory.
The North recently conducted a barrage of missile launches and an underground nuclear test that violated previous U.N. Security Council penalties. Clinton told reporters that U.N. diplomats were making progress on new penalties.
In his remarks Saturday, Obama was more blunt about the limits of U.S. patience.
“North Korea’s actions over the last several months have been extraordinarily provocative and they have made no bones about the fact that they are testing nuclear weapons, testing missiles that potentially would have intercontinental capacity,” the president said.