Obama Says He Can't Guarantee His Approach to North Korea Will Work

By Susan Jones | September 9, 2016 | 5:02am EDT
South Korea measures seismic waves in North Korea on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, after North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test explosion. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama, speaking at his final news conference in Laos on Thursday, said his approach to North Korea is "to not reward bad behavior," but he also admitted that his approach isn't working because Pyongyang "has continued to engage in the development of their nuclear program."

Obama spoke shortly before North Korea conducted its fifth -- and largest -- nuclear test.

Obama said he is "deeply disturbed" by North Korea's continued flouting of "international obligations," and he pointed to the defensive measures -- the deployment of U.S. THADD missiles in South Korea -- intended to protect the U.S. and its allies.

"We will continue to put some of the toughest pressure that North Korea has ever been under as a consequence of this behavior. Can I guarantee that it works? No," Obama said. But it is the best option that we have available to us right now. And we will continue to explore with all parties involved, including China, other potential means by which we can bring about a change in behavior."
Obama told reporters that when he met with China's president a few days ago, "We emphasized the importance of full implementation of the U.N. sanctions that have been put forward."

Obama said he told China's president that if the deployment of U.S. THAAD missiles in South Korea bothers him, he needs to understand that those missiles are purely defensive, and "they need to work with us to more effectively change Pyongyang's behavior."

"Now, when it comes to changing Pyongyang's behavior, it's tough," Obama said. "It is true that our approach -- my approach since I've been president -- is to not reward bad behavior."

Obama said before he came into office, the approach to North Korea was to make concessions in the face of aggression:  "You had a pattern in which North Korea would engage in some provocative action and...countries would then try to placate them by giving them humanitarian aid or providing other concessions, or engaging in dialogue, which would relieve some of the pressure, and then they would just go right back to the same provocative behavior later.

"And so our view was, that wasn't working, let's trying something else.

"Now, it is entirely fair to say that they have continued to engage in the development of their nuclear program and these ballistic missile tests. And so we are constantly examining other strategies that we can take, close consultations with Republic of Korea and Japan, as well as China and Russia and others who are interested parties, and we do believe that if there are any signs, at any point, that North Korea is serious about dialogue around denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula, that we'll be ready to have those conversations.

"It's not as if we are looking for a problem, or avoiding a willingness to engage diplomatically," Obama continued. "But diplomacy requires that Pyongyang meet its international obligations, and not only is it failing to meet those international obligations, it's not even suggesting that they have any intention to do so anytime in the future, regardless of the inducements that might be put on the table."

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