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South Korea, U.S. Pledge Firm Response To North Korea

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[April 25, 2014]  By Ju-min Park and Mark Felsenthal

SEOUL (Reuters)  North Korea represents a threat not just to Asia but to the United States, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday, as he and South Korea's President Park Geun-hye warned they would respond firmly to any "provocations".

In March, the North warned it would not rule out a "new form" of nuclear test to boost its nuclear deterrent, after the U.N. Security Council condemned Pyongyang's launch of a mid-range ballistic missile into the sea east of the peninsula.

Recent satellite data shows continued work at the nuclear test site in North Korea, although experts analyzing the data say that preparations do not appear to have progressed far enough for an imminent test.

"When North Korea is threatening further provocations and publicly discussing the possibility of a further nuclear test, President Obama's visit to South Korea will send a firm message that North Korea's provocations will not be tolerated," Park told a joint press conference.

The two presidents were speaking after a summit in Seoul, the second stop of a four-nation Asia tour for Obama.

Obama said he hoped China would use its influence to rein in its North Korean ally. Beijing called again on Friday for a resumption of stalled talks between North Korea, itself, the United States, South Korea and Russia.

Park said the process  known as the six-party talks  would be rendered "useless" by a fourth nuclear test.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since its first nuclear test in 2006, banning it from conducting atomic and missile tests, barring U.N. member states from weapons trade with Pyongyang and financial transactions that facilitate them.

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Military experts say the North would lose any conventional war with South Korea and the United States and is seeking to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

It has also used the nuclear program to attempt to wring concessions and aid from the United States. Washington has said that it would be open to talks if North Korea abandoned its nuclear program.

North Korea describes its nuclear weapons as a "treasured sword" that it will never abandon.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; writing by James Pearson; editing by Alex Richardson)

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