North Korea Plays Spoiler at Obama's Nuclear Summit

It was supposed to be a two-day summit about keeping nukes away from terrorists, instead North Korea's temper tantrum is spoiling President Obama's plans.

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It was supposed to be a two-day summit about keeping nukes away from terrorists, instead North Korea's temper tantrum is spoiling President Obama's plans. The Hermit Kingdom seized the attention surrounding this week's global summit in Seoul with its announcement to launch a satellite into space, which most skeptics see as a cover-up for nuclear missile development. It followed that announcement with increasingly confrontational remarks over the last few days, which sidelined the summit's agenda. "I think North Korea did this to overshadow our talks about nuclear security," China Arms Control and Disarmament Association head Li Hong told the Associated Press. Here's how that played out in the press

What the world is supposed to be talking about

  • Iran News stories about the Seoul summit are relegating one of Obama's chief goals of securing widespread condemnation of Iran's nuclear program to below-the-fold coverage. If he's lucky, some stories on the summit will even feature his prepared remarks about Iran (though very far down in the story). "Iran must act with the seriousness and sense of urgency that this moment demands," said Obama, in a moment captured by Time. "Iran must meet its obligations."
  • Russia and nuclear non-proliferation The president's main message of the summit concerned nuclear terrorism and non-proliferation. As Reuters wrote " Obama held out the prospect of new reductions in the U.S. arsenal as he sought to rally world leaders for additional concrete steps against the threat of nuclear terrorism." Publicly, he said "we have more nuclear weapons than we need" and privately he met with Dmitry Medvedev.  

What the world is actually talking about

  • North Korea moving its long-range rocket to launch pad It came just hours after the U.S. told North Korea not to pursue its launch but today, North Korea has moved its long-range rocket to its launching pad, a South Korean defense ministry says. As CNN reports "The rocket was moved to a launch pad in the northeastern portion of Dongchang-ri, a village in northwest North Korea, the official said." The move preceded a truculent  statement from Pyongyang saying any criticism of its launch will be treated as a "declaration of war."  North Korea's announcement ... is overshadowing a message of international cooperation for the summit," said CNN. 
  • Obama telling China to get Pyongyang in line North Korea's test threats spurred a flurry of last-minute negotiating between the U.S. and China, reports the BBC, on how to respond to the country. In report this morning, the BBC says the two powers have agreed to co-ordinate a unified response if the country goes ahead with its launch. "We both have an interest in making sure that international norms surrounding non-proliferation, preventing destabilising nuclear weapons, is very important," Obama said. His deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes added that China is also expressing those concerns. 
  • Deal suspended The U.S. and North Korea had a food-for-nukes plan that is now suspended due to the launch announcement. 
  • Obama lecturing North Korea In turn, the president was also forced to focus exclusively on North Korea when issues related to Syria and Iran were supposed to be in the foreground. Yesterday, The Guardian reports, he told North Korean leaders: "By now it should be clear. Your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek – they have undermined it. Instead of the dignity you desire, you are more isolated."
  • Obama and Medvedev You can't blame everything on North Korea. One of the moments gaining traction during the summit is a hot mic exchange between Obama and Medvedev pertaining to the development of a missile shield in Central Europe, which Russia condemns. Bloomberg reports:
Obama told Medvedev he needs Putin to “give me space” to deal with missile defense.

“This is my last election and after my election I have more flexibility,” Obama said, placing his hand on Medvedev’s arm, according to a video recording of the exchange.

“I understand,” Medvedev replied. “I transmit this information to Vladimir.”

The discussion suggests Obama will be more free to push his "reset" plans with Russia, should get a second term.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.