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Obama: N. Korean rocket test would isolate regime

By Ben Feller

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 25 2012 5:11 a.m. MDT

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during their joint news conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, March 25, 2012.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — Warning North Korea from its doorstep, President Barack Obama said Pyongyang risks deepening its isolation in the international community if it proceeds with a planned long-range rocket launch.

"North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations," Obama said during a news conference Sunday in Seoul, South Korea, where he was to attend a nuclear security summit.

Obama spoke fresh off his first visit to the tense Demilitarized Zone, the heavily patrolled no-man's land between North and South Korea, where he peered long and hard at the isolated North.

"It's like you're in a time warp," Obama said. "It's like you're looking across 50 years into a country that has missed 40 years or 50 years of progress."

From the DMZ, Obama returned to Seoul for a private meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Both leaders warned there would be consequences if North Korea proceeds with its plans to launch a satellite using a long-range rocket next month, a move the U.S. and other powers say would violate a U.N. ban on nuclear and missile activity because the same technology could be used for long-range missiles.

Obama said the launch would jeopardize a deal for the U.S. to resume stalled food aid to North Korea and may result in the tightening of harsh economic sanctions on the already-impoverished nation.

"Bad behavior will not be rewarded," Obama said. "There had been a pattern, I think, for decades in which North Korea thought if they had acted provocatively, then somehow they would be bribed into ceasing and desisting acting provocatively."

The planned rocket launch is yet another setback for the United States in years of on-again, off-again attempts to launch real negotiations. The announcement also played into Republican criticism that Obama had been too quick to jump at a new chance for talks with the North Koreans.

North Korea walked away from international disarmament talks in 2009. Years of fitful negotiations had succeeded in ending part of North Korea's nuclear program but failed in stopping it from building and testing nuclear devices and long-range missiles that might be able to carry bombs.

The United States is a party to the stalled talks, along with China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. Of those, China has the greatest leverage as North Korea's only ally and benefactor. The negotiations were aimed at offering North Korea economic and diplomatic incentives to give up threatening elements of its nuclear program.

Obama offered a blunt assessment of China's role in controlling North Korea's belligerent actions, saying that its approach over the past decades has failed to alter North Korea's behavior. Obama was scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday, and his comments appeared to preview his message to the Chinese leader.

"What I've said to them consistently is rewarding bad behavior, turning a blind eye to deliberate provocations, trying to paper over these not just provocative words but extraordinarily provocative acts that violate international norms, that that's not obviously working," Obama said.

Obama conceded that China, as North Korea's northern neighbor, worries about the ramifications of instability in North Korea. But he held out China as an example of economic success, an achievement, Obama said, that it reached by "abandoning some of the practices that North Korea still clings to."

North Korea had appeared close to returning to talks this spring. The United States offered long-sought food aid in February in return for North Korea's agreement to freeze uranium enrichment and allow in U.N. inspectors. The North also agreed to a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests.

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