President Obama marked Veterans Day at Yongsan Garrison in South Korea Thursday using his proximity to North Korea to chide the nation for its path of provocation while at the same time again extending an olive branch even as he prepares for a round of what is expected to be tense meetings about currency and world economic problems at the G20 in Seoul.
The speech to troops was designed to remember those who fought and died in all wars, but was made more poignant by those in the audience who served in the Korean War, also referred to as the Forgotten War. But the president took the opportunity to talk about the on-going international troubles for North Korea in relation to both South Korea as well as the international community.
"Today, the Korean peninsula provides the world's clearest contrast between a society that is open and one that is closed; between a nation that is dynamic and growing, and a government that would rather starve its people than change. It's a contrast so stark you can see it from space, as the brilliant lights of Seoul give way to utter darkness in the north," Obama told the 1500 members of the Armed Forces at Yongsan. "This is not an accident of history. It is a direct result of the path that has been taken by North Korea - a path of confrontation and provocation; one that includes the pursuit of nuclear weapons and the attack on the Cheonan last March."
The attack in March on the South Korean ship as it sat in port was the latest confrontation between the North and South Koreans. Obama told the troops that the regime to the North, in the capital of Pyongyang, should understand the message from the United States, "the United States will never waiver in our commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea. The alliance between our two nations has never been stronger, and along the with the rest of the world, we have made it clear that North Korea's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons will only lead to more isolation and less security. "
But while the speech may have sounded as if the president was pushing hard on North Korea, he also made clear there are options for that nation. Obama reiterated what his administration has been saying since coming into the White House - if the North Korean regime would fulfill their international obligations they would stand to have much to gain, including security and respect from the world community.
However, regardless of any olive branch the White House may be trying to extend, a new United Nations report obtained by Foxnews.com shows the North is "exporting banned nuclear and missile technology to Iran, Syria and Myanmar."
Republicans pounced on the administration for what they call "endless negotiation" with the North. U.S. Rep. Ileana-Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) told Fox News.com the report "should be a wake-up call for the U.S. and other responsible nations."
The speech to troops by President Obama comes just as world leaders converge on Seoul, South Korea for the start of the G20 summit. And while the president will be concentrating on world economic issues, it's possible the topic of North Korea could come up in his bi-lateral meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao when the two leaders meet later on Thursday in Seoul.
It will be the seventh meeting of the two men since Obama took office in January 2009 and while North Korea may be on the agenda, most predict the issue of currency and trade imbalances will be the "hot topic" at the G20.
Derek Scissors of the Heritage Foundation says the real problems actually lie in trade imbalances and the federal deficit. "What we should be doing is cutting the federal budget deficit, which will boost national saving and reduce our trade imbalance. What China should be doing is cutting subsidies to state-owned enterprises," says Scissors.