By Stephen Collinson (AFP)
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama will hold his first White House talks with South Korean counterpart Park Geun-Hye on May 7, in a show of solidarity at a time of dangerous tensions on the Korean peninsula.
A White House statement said the talks — a highly visible diplomatic statement by Washington and South Korea — would highlight continuing coordination between the allies in “countering the North Korean threat.”
US officials had previously said publicly that Park, who was sworn into office in February, would visit in May but had not named a date.
The White House announcement on Monday came hours after North Korea’s military, in its latest bellicose rhetorical blast, threatened retaliation against the South over anti-Pyongyang protests.
The statement said that Obama and Park would discuss economic and security issues including “continued cooperation on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and countering the North Korean threat.
“They will also review the progress made in strengthening our economic ties and in enhancing and modernizing bilateral security cooperation.
“President Park’s visit underscores the importance of the (US-South Korean) alliance as a linchpin of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the Asia Pacific region,” the statement said.
The Korean peninsula has been in a state of heightened military tension since the North carried out its third nuclear test in February.
Incensed by fresh UN sanctions and joint South Korea-US military exercises, Pyongyang has spent weeks issuing blistering threats of missile strikes and nuclear war.
Earlier, the White House said that its position had long been that there was a path to talks for North Korea, after Secretary of State John Kerry raised the prospect of “authentic” negotiations.
The comments appeared to be an attempt to discount expectations of any policy shift in Washington on conditional talks with Pyongyang.
“It has long been our position… that North Korea has available to it a path that it could take if it agreed to the basic principle that it needs to be committed to its international obligations,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“It needs to be committed to the proposition of a denuclearized Korean peninsula,” he said.
“North Korea has unfortunately chosen another path, a different path, the path of provocative behavior and rhetoric that has only served to isolate it further and to bring more harm to its economy through sanctions and the like.
“So that’s what Secretary Kerry was referring to, that this path is available to North Korea, but that has long been our position.”
Kerry said earlier in Tokyo that Washington was ready to talk to North Korea but that Pyongyang had to take “meaningful steps” to honor its international commitments — remarks which appeared consistent with Carney’s comments.
“The United States remains open to authentic and credible negotiations on denuclearization, but the burden is on Pyongyang,” he said.
“North Korea must take meaningful steps to show it will honor commitments it has already made,” Kerry said.
Kerry’s trip came as North Korea on Monday celebrated the 101st anniversary of the birth of regime founder Kim Il-Sung, a date on which Pyongyang in the past has launched rockets or shown other signs of its military prowess.
As the day passed without incident, the United States renewed its warnings against any such action.
“Any absence of provocative behavior or unhelpful rhetoric is a good thing in this case. But again, I would not suggest that we believe the cycle of behavior has ended, necessarily,” Carney said.
“We certainly would not be surprised if North Korea were to take that action; it would be in keeping with past behavior,” he said, referring to reports that Pyongyang may fire one or two medium-range missiles.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said separately: “They could still do this test and we continue to urge them not to do that. We think it’s a provocative action.”
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