News Column

Obama to Visit Demilitarized Zone During South Korea Visit

March 21, 2012

Pat Reber and Marco Mierke

S. Korea

For the first time since he took office, US President Barack Obama plans to visit the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea on Sunday, the day he is to arrive for a nuclear security summit, an administration official said Tuesday.

The three-day meeting starting Sunday follows up the nuclear security summit hosted by Obama in 2010.

His plans to visit the DMZ were confirmed by an administration official who spoke to reporters Tuesday on condition of anonymity, according to the Washington Post and other media.

A tour of the 38th parallel, which separates communist North Korea from the democratic, US-allied South Korea, would underline the security alliance between Washington and Seoul.

White House spokesman Jay Carney last week would not confirm Obama's plans in South Korea but said that a DMZ visit "would be reflective of the president's commitment to both security on the Korean Peninsula and the need for North Korea to live up to its international obligations, give up its nuclear weapons programme and return to the community of nations."

Other leaders planning to attend the summit include Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, with whom Obama may also be meeting.

Fifty-three countries are participating in the summit. North Korea is not a participant.

Russia, the US, Japan, China and South Korea have been working for years to convince North Korea to halt its nuclear programme.

The potential for a breakthrough arose when Pyongyang agreed on February 29 to freeze its nuclear programme and stop launching missiles in exchange for food aid from the United States. Last week, North Korea said it would launch a satellite in April, provoking disappointment and raising the spectre that the deal could fall through.

On Monday, North Korea asked international nuclear inspectors to resume work in the country, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.

The 2010 summit was the first of its kind, bringing many leaders together in Washington, and more than 40 countries agreed to take steps to prevent nuclear material from being used in a terrorist attack.

The countries agreed to move away from highly enriched uranium -- the key ingredient in nuclear weapons -- for power plants and adopt much safer low-enriched fuel. The United States and Russia pledged to dispose of large amounts of weapons-grade plutonium their stockpiles.

Ukraine announced plans to give up highly enriched uranium by 2012 as part of a broader, long-standing effort led by the United States and Russia to take back the dangerous fuel and convert civilian reactors to low-enriched uranium.

Canada and Mexico announced plans to abandon the use of highly enriched uranium and send their stores of the fuel back to the United States. Right before the summit, Chile shipped the last of its weapons-grade uranium to the United States.

The US and Canada called on countries to contribute to a goal of $10 billion toward a global fund to promote nuclear security.

Source: (c)2012 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)

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