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,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference on Sunday in Seoul, South Korea, where he was to attend a nuclear security summit.
Mr. Obama spoke fresh off his first visit to the tense Demilitarised 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,” Mr. 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, Mr. 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.
Mr. Obama said the launch would jeopardise 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.
Mr. 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 behaviour. Mr. 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 behaviour, 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,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama conceded that China, as North Korea's northern neighbour, worries about the ramifications of instability in North Korea. But he held out China as an example of economic success, an achievement, Mr. 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.
Mr. Obama's visit takes place as North Koreans mark the end of the 100-day mourning period for longtime leader Kim Jong-il, who died of a heart attack in December. Since Kim's death, son Kim Jong-un has been paying a series of high-profile visits to military units and made his own trip to the “peace village” of Panmunjom inside the DMZ earlier this month.