U.S. President Barack Obama said North Korea's nuclear program poses a "grave threat" to the world. Mr. Obama and visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told reporters that new responses must be found.

In the White House Rose Garden, the two leaders said that last week's U.N. resolution against North Korea developing nuclear weapons must be enforced.

Presidents Obama and Lee, standing side-by-side, agreed that they would not, under any circumstances, allow North Korea to possess nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama said threats and belligerence would not earn prestige and respect for the communist North, and that Pyongyang has an alternative.

"I want to be clear that there is another path available to North Korea - a path that leads to peace and economic opportunity for the people of North Korea, including full integration into the community of nations," he said.

S. Korean Pres. Lee Myung-bak and Pres.Barack Obama shake hands during their joint news conference in the Rose Garden of The White House in Washington, 16 Jun 2009Mr. Obama said he and Mr. Lee agreed that Pyongyang can reach that destination only through peaceful negotiations.

Mr. Lee said his country, Japan, China, Russia and the United States are united in refusing to allow North Korea to continue its behavior.

"And now, the North Koreans will come to understand that this is different - that they will not be able to repeat the past or their past actions and strategies," said Mr. Lee.

Mr. Obama echoed the South Korean president's view that it is time to end the pattern of North Korea threatening its neighbors, then being rewarded for ending that behavior.

"The message we are sending, and when I say 'we' - not simply the United States and the Republic of Korea, but I think the international community - is we are going to break that pattern," he said.

The North Koreans have conducted two underground nuclear tests. And U.S. officials say Pyongyang appears to be preparing for a third.

President Obama said Pyongyang's history of threatening its neighbors and proliferating nuclear technology means it should not be recognized as a legitimate nuclear power.

Mr. Lee also called for the North Korean government to release two American journalists and a South Korean worker jailed in the North.

The summit comes a day after the latest show of defiance by North Korea, which said some 100,000 people rallied to denounce a tightening of UN sanctions on the hardline communist state for testing a nuclear bomb.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has indicated that he wants Obama, who has set a goal of abolishing nuclear weapons, to reiterate that Seoul is under the US security umbrella.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reassured Lee in a meeting on Monday that the United States was committed to defend South Korea "through all necessary means, including the nuclear umbrella," Lee's office said in a statement.

The United States stations some 28,500 troops in South Korea and more than 40,000 more in nearby Japan, which has tense relations with Pyongyang. Lee, a conservative businessman, took over last year and - delighting many in Washington - reversed a decade-long "sunshine policy" under which South Korea put few restrictions on aid to the impoverished North.

The US Congress greeted him by passing a resolution demanding that North Korea end its "hostile rhetoric" against Lee, routinely berated in Pyongyang's state media as "the traitor".

"I think it's important that the president and the secretary of state know that Congress will stand behind them if they have to take stronger action," said the resolution's main sponsor, Republican Congressman Peter King.

The resolution also urges North Korea to return to a six-nation disarmament accord, which it bolted from in April after testing a long-range missile. China, the North's neighbour and main ally, which has always favoured cautious diplomacy with Pyongyang, put its weight behind the UN resolution on Tuesday by pledging to uphold required inspections of suspected shipments of banned items related to nuclear and missile activities.

"Regarding the cargo inspection issue, there are explicit provisions in UN resolution 1874.

Like other members of the Security Council, China will implement the resolution earnestly," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

There has been growing speculation in Washington that North Korea may conduct its third-ever nuclear test, even after the United Nations Security Council last week unanimously voted to tighten sanctions on Pyongyang.

In the face of ongoing international consternation, however, media reports from Seoul detailed how the North finished preparatory work for a new launch pad for long-range missiles on its northwest coast.

While no missile is at the site, satellite photos of the Dongchang-ri site reportedly showed the structure to be some 165 feet (50 meters) tall, meaning it would be capable of firing an intercontinental ballistic missile measuring 130 feet (40 metres) or longer.

At Pyongyang's giant rally, military officer Pak Jae-Gyong vowed North Korea is ready to "deal telling blows at the vital parts of the US and wipe out all its imperialist aggressor troops no matter where they are in the world," according to state media.

While North Korea has posed an early test for the Obama administration, some analysts believe its military moves are primarily for domestic reasons as ailing leader Kim Jong-Il, 67, tries to bolster authority and establish a succession plan involving his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un.

Lee's visit had been planned months in advance as part of the young Obama administration's outreach to key allies. The agenda was originally expected to focus on broadening the two nations' alliance, which was borne of the 1950-53 Korean War but has expanded to include cooperation in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and economic issues.

Barring rain, Lee is slated to be the first foreign leader to appear with Obama in the Rose Garden next to the White House's Oval Office, a favourite setting for presidents to sign legislation or make major announcements. Lee is hoping to push Obama to move ahead with a free trade agreement, sealed in 2007 after painstaking negotiations and sometimes violent protests in Seoul. - AFP/ms


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