Obama Says U.S. Won't Stop Military Drills, Spurning North Korea

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A man watches a television news channel in Seoul showing footage of a North Korean missile launch on April 24, 2016.

Photographer: STF/AFP/Getty Images
  • Remarks follow Pyongyang's offer to suspend nuclear tests
  • North Korea must first commit to `denuclearizing,' he says

President Barack Obama said the U.S. won’t back down from strengthening its military alliances and defenses against North Korea until the country “shows seriousness” toward eliminating nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula.

“If North Korea shows seriousness in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, then we will be ready to engage in serious conversations with them to reduce tensions,” Obama said Sunday at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hannover, Germany, the final stop of a three-nation international tour.

QuickTake North Korea's Nukes

North Korea would “have to do better” than announcing “via press release” that it intends to step back from nuclear weapons development, he said.

North Korea on Saturday test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine, according to the U.S. Strategic Command. It wasn’t clear how far the missile flew, and the U.S. said it “did not pose a threat to North America.” The move was the latest in a string of military provocations from the regime of Kim Jong Un, and would represent a significant advance in North Korean weapons capability.

“Although more often than not they fail in many of these tests, they gain knowledge each time they engage in these tests,” Obama said. “We take it very seriously, and so do our allies and so does the entire world.”

North Korean Claims

In recent months, North Korea has also claimed to have successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb, launched a satellite into orbit, and developed miniaturized nuclear bombs.

North Korea’s foreign minister told the Associated Press on Sunday the country was willing to halt its nuclear tests if the U.S. suspended its annual joint military exercises with South Korea. Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong also said in the interview that international sanctions wouldn’t change the behavior of the regime.

“If we continue on this path of confrontation, this will lead to very catastrophic results, not only for the two countries but for the whole entire world as well,” he said. “It is really crucial for the United States government to withdraw its hostile policy against the DPRK and as an expression of this stop the military exercises, war exercises, in the Korean Peninsula. Then we will respond likewise.”

Military Exercises

The U.S. and South Korea intensified the military exercises, which are expected to continue through the month, after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January. Approximately 300,000 South Korea troops and 17,000 U.S. troops are participating in the drills, according to the joint U.S. and South Korean military command.

The United Nations also implemented additional sanctions limiting the banking activities of the regime abroad. The U.S. has credited China, which has more financial ties with North Korea, with helping to pass and implement the new penalties.

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