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Obama: ‘Very hard look’ at steps on N. Korea

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama on Saturday expressed impatience with North Korea's refusal to restart nuclear disarmament talks and said his administration was taking "a very hard look" at possible tougher approaches.

"We are not intending to continue a policy of rewarding provocation," he said.

While hardening the U.S. position, Obama did not cite any specific new measures and said he preferred following a diplomatic path. He made no reference to potential military action, but his language suggested he sees little point in continuing policy that has failed to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons or halt development of missiles capable of striking Asian nation and potentially the U.S.

On a different front, Obama won support from French President Nicolas Sarkozy on seeking a Mideast peace that provides for Israeli and Palestinian states, and on the need to thwart Iran's disputed nuclear ambitions.

The State Department said Friday the U.S. is considering imposing its own financial penalties against North Korea, in addition to whatever punishment the U.N. takes in response to the North's recent nuclear test.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with South Korea's foreign minister, Yu Myung-Hwan, in Washington on Friday amid indications the reclusive communist government was preparing to test a missile that could reach U.S. territory.

The North recently conducted a barrage of missile launches and an underground nuclear test that violated previous U.N. Security Council penalties. Clinton told reporters that U.N. diplomats were making progress on new penalties.

In his remarks Saturday, Obama was more blunt about the limits of U.S. patience.

"North Korea's actions over the last several months have been extraordinarily provocative and they have made no bones about the fact that they are testing nuclear weapons, testing missiles that potentially would have intercontinental capacity," the president said.

'There will be no compromise'
Earlier Saturday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak delivered a stern warning to the North in a nationally televised speech honoring the country's war dead. "I would like to make it clear that there will be no compromise against things that threaten our people and security," Lee said.

At an earlier point in the long-running struggle to put a lid on North Korea's nuclear ambitions, President Bill Clinton's administration in the mid-1990s discussed with urgency the possibility of taking military action. That seems less likely now. The North evidently is nuclear-armed and other nations are focused first on searching for a nonmilitary solution.

Obama mentioned that Russia and China, two of the six nations in the disarmament talks, responded more forcefully to North Korea's recent tests than they had in the past. He said this was an indication that Moscow and Beijing share the U.S. view that North Korea's repeated defiance of international demands is destabilizing the region.

"My preference is always to use a diplomatic approach," Obama said. "But diplomacy has to involve the other side engaging in a serious way in trying to solve problems. And we have not seen that kind of reaction from North Korea. So we will continue to consult with our allies."

The U.S., Russia, China, Japan and South Korea are seeking to get North Korea back to the bargaining table, with little progress so far.

"We are going to take a very hard look at how we move forward on these issues, and I don't think that there should be an assumption that we will simply continue down a path in which North Korea is constantly destabilizing the region and we just react in the same ways by, after they've done these things for a while, then we reward them," he said.

Obama did not mention it, but the Bush administration agreed to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of terrorist states after the North said it would dismantle its nuclear weapons facilities. It later refused to go forward with the dismantlement.

Commemorating D-Day
Obama spoke after a private meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who told reporters that on the matter of North Korea, "we have total convergence of views with the American president."

Later the two presidents flew to the Normandy coast to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that turned the tide of World War II in Europe.

On Iran, Sarkozy said "we do not want military nuclear weapons to spread and we are clear on that." On Wednesday he had met with Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, and told him "to take this hand stretched out by Barack Obama."

Obama reaffirmed that there must be "tough diplomacy" with Tehran and said Iran's actions are contrary to its leaders' insistence that the country does not seek nuclear weapons.

He said he wants to see greater U.S.-Russian efforts to limit nuclear weapons and said that his work against nuclear proliferation and the efforts toward that end by other countries should signal Iran's leaders that they are not being singled out for rebuke.