With the reality of a nuclear-armed next-door neighbor sinking in, South Korea is looking to Washington for assurances that the American nuclear umbrella is still good.
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak met with President Obama at the White House Tuesday, and topping his agenda was North Korea's solidified nuclear status.
Mr. Obama indicated firm resolve in how the international community will deal with the North, saying it poses "a grave threat." "We will pursue denuclearization on the Korean peninsula vigorously," he said at a press conference with Mr. Lee in the Rose Garden.
The United States has promised South Korea full nuclear protection since the Korean war. But Lee has wanted to secure written assurances of that protection, according to the South Korean press.
On Tuesday, the two countries released a joint statement that articulated the overall partnership between the two countries, including the nuclear element.
"We will maintain a robust defense posture," the statement read in part. "The continuing commitment of extended deterrence, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella, reinforces this assurance."
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been ratcheting up. In response to a new United Nations Security Council resolution slapping tougher sanctions on North Korea for a recent nuclear test, Pyongyang announced Saturday that it would never give up its nuclear weapons, but would in fact set out to build more.
Both Obama and Lee indicated Tuesday that North Korea would not be able to do what it's done in the past: When it's waited long enough after a controversial act, the impoverished and isolated country has received concessionary loans and aid such as foodstuffs. North Korea "will not be able to repeat the past or their past tactics and strategies," Lee said at the press conference.
"We are going to break that pattern," Obama added.
The US is planning to begin enforcement of one provision of the UN resolution that authorizes countries to stop North Korean ships suspected of carrying banned cargo. …