Analysts say North Korea appears to be reverting to a familiar cycle
of provocations, perhaps as its untested leader tries to consolidate
Mr. Obama declined to speculate on the younger Mr. Kim, saying that "it's not clear exactly who's calling the shots" in North Korea.
Mr. Lee said he was disappointed because until the plans for the satellite launching were announced, he had expected Mr. Kim to take a path different from his father's.
During his visit to the demilitarized zone, Mr. Obama paid tribute to the soldiers who have patrolled this frontier, saying they made it possible for South Korea to grow into a thriving democracy with a free-market economy despite the constant threat of war from the North.
"You guys are at freedom's frontier," the president said to U.S. troops in a dining hall at Camp Bonifas, an outpost of the U.N. command that oversees the zone. "The contrast between South Korea and North Korea could not be clearer, could not be starker, both in terms of freedom but also in terms of prosperity."
There was time for levity, too. Mr. Obama thanked the soldiers for giving him a "spiffy jacket," and he drew laughs when he talked about how a skein of upsets in the N.C.A.A. men's basketball tournament had made a hash of the brackets chosen by amateur bettors.
The president then greeted eight South Korean soldiers who keep watch at Observation Post Ouellette, one of the posts closest to the North. As they waited for Mr. Obama to arrive, in a room with tightly drawn curtains and posters for target practice, the soldiers rehearsed their handshakes and barked greetings: "Very nice to meet you, sir."
The pleasantries completed, Mr. Obama stepped out into a chilly, windswept bunker, ringed by sandbags and camouflage burlap and shielded by two-inch-thick bulletproof glass, where he was handed binoculars to survey the bleak North Korea countryside.
As a military escort pointed out landmarks, Mr. Obama could be heard asking where the line of demarcation was between the North and South in different directions, as well as the size of the nearby North Korean village where the giant flag was flying.
U.S. officials warned that the North Koreans might sound a siren at noon to mark the 100th day since the death of Mr. Kim. Mr. Obama was at the observation post at that time, but no sirens were heard in the gusty wind.
The timing of Mr. Obama's visit was also symbolic, coming a day before the second anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean Navy warship, the Cheonan. An international investigation concluded that the ship was torpedoed by the North, a charge the North Koreans deny.
Administration officials said the visit to the zone, where some of the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea serve alongside Korean troops, was a way to honor the loss of the Cheonan, which they said had brought South Korea and the United States closer together as allies.
After spending about an hour at the border, Mr. Obama's helicopter headed back to Seoul, where he met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey for discussions, mainly about Syria.
The two leaders conferred about a plan to provide nonlethal aid, including medical supplies and communications equipment, to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's government, said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.
Most Popular Stories
- Boehner Lashes Out Against Ted Cruz, Far Right
- Hawaii Official Who Release Obama Certificate Only Victim of Plane Crash
- Ted Cruz Coloring Book Selling Briskly
- Ford Plans New Cars, Jobs in 2014
- 'Rape Insurance' Bill Passes in Michigan
- Grizzly Bears Could Be Taken Off Endangered List
- Kim Jong Un's Uncle Executed
- Gold, Silver Slide on Prospects of Fed Exit
- Holiday Shopping Off to a Slow Start This Season
- Podesta Likely to Reject Keystone XL