Meeting on the sidelines of a global nuclear security summit in
Washington, the three leaders recommitted their countries to each
others' defense and warned they could take further steps to counter
threats from Pyongyang.
Obama held separate talks with President Xi Jinping of China, the
closest North Korea has to an ally, and said they both wanted to see
"full implementation" of the latest United Nations sanctions against
But Xi offered no sign that China was prepared to go beyond its
consent to the Security Council measures imposed in early March.
"We are united in our efforts to deter and defend against North
Korean provocations," Obama told reporters after the
U.S.-Japan-South Korea meeting. "We have to work together to meet
Relations between Park and Abe have been frosty in the past, but the
two have been brought together in recent months by shared concerns
about North Korea, which conducted a fourth nuclear bomb test on
Jan. 6 and launched a long-range rocket in February.
The United States has sought to encourage improved ties between
South Korea and Japan, its two biggest allies in Asia, given worries
not only about North Korea but also an increasingly assertive China.
The expanded U.N. sanctions aimed at starving North Korea of funds
for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs were approved in a
unanimous Security Council vote on a resolution drafted by the
United States and China.
Even though China has signed on, doubts persist in the West on how
far it will go in tightening the screws on impoverished North Korea,
given China's concerns about fueling instability on its borders.
Appearing later with Obama, Xi said that while Washington and
Beijing disagreed in some areas, they have had "effective
communication and coordination" on North Korea.
However, China, considered the most capable of influencing North
Korea's leadership, has said repeatedly that sanctions are not the
solution and only a resumption of international talks can resolve
Six-party talks among the two Koreas, China, the United States,
Japan and Russia aimed at curbing the North's nuclear ambitions
collapsed in 2008.
Xi called for dialogue to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, but
also said all parties should avoid doing anything to raise tensions,
China's foreign ministry said.
He alluded to a missile defense system the United States wants to
base in South Korea that China opposes, saying no party should do
anything to affect the security interests of other countries or that
upsets the regional strategic balance.
Thursday's meetings took place as leaders from more than 50
countries gathered for a two-day summit hosted by Obama and focused
on securing vulnerable atomic materials to prevent nuclear
terrorism. North Korea's nuclear defiance was high on the agenda.
Notably absent is Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding to doubts
that a meeting without one of the world's top nuclear powers can
yield major results.
Despite that, a joint U.S.-China statement showed the two countries,
while rivals on trade and at odds over the South China Sea, agreeing
to work together to investigate and curb nuclear smuggling and to
hold annual talks on the issue.
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Obama said he, Park and Abe had directed their teams to come up with
additional steps they can take collectively against North Korea.
Park said the leaders had discussed ways to force North Korea to
"alter its misguided calculus" on its weapons programs, and Abe
expressed a commitment to strengthening three-way security
The meeting came just days after Republican presidential frontrunner
Donald Trump caused an uproar by suggesting that Japan and South
Korea should be allowed to build their own nuclear arsenals, putting
him at odds with decades of U.S. policy.
Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said Trump's
comments did not come up in the three leaders' discussions. But he
said: "It would be catastrophic were the United States to shift its
position and indicate that we support somehow the proliferation of
nuclear weapons to additional countries."
Obama has less than 10 months left in office to follow through on
one of his signature foreign policy initiatives – locking down as
much of the world's nuclear materials as possible - and this week's
meeting is his fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit.
While progress has been made, some arms-control advocates say the
process seems to have lost momentum and could slow even further once
Obama leaves office in January.
A boycott by Russia, apparently unwilling to join in a
U.S.-dominated gathering at a time of tension between Washington and
Moscow, especially over Ukraine, could detract from any decisions
made at the summit.
The militant attacks in Brussels on March 22 have fueled concern
that Islamic State could target nuclear plants, steal material and
develop radioactive "dirty bombs".
Xi raised his concern about such attacks at a banquet.
"As international terrorist activities have entered a new phase of
increasing activity, the threat of nuclear terrorism particularly
cannot be ignored," China's foreign ministry cited him as saying.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Roberta Rampton, David
Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu, and Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina
in BEIJING; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Frances Kerry and
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