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Joint Press Conference by President Obama and South Korean President Park, May 2013

Speakers: Barack Obama, and Park Geun-hye
Published May 7, 2013

President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye held a press conference on May 7, 2013. They discussed trade and threats from North Korea.

Excerpt from the press conference:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, we've got a couple of questions from each side, so we'll start with Stephen Collinson of AFP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Does the United States have a core national security interest in stopping the slaughter in Syria, or merely a strong moral desire to see the violence end? And at what point does the cost of not intervening in a more direct way than you have done so far outweigh the cost of doing so?

And if I may ask, President Park, President Obama's critics have warned that failing to act on perceived violations of U.S. red lines in Syria could embolden U.S. enemies elsewhere, including in North Korea. Are you convinced that Kim Jong-un has taken the U.S. and South Korean warnings seriously, and do you see the withdrawal of two missiles from a test site as a sign that he's willing to deescalate the situation?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Stephen, I think that we have both a moral obligation and a national security interest in, A, ending the slaughter in Syria, but, B, also ensuring that we've got a stable Syria that is representative of all the Syrian people, and is not creating chaos for its neighbors. And that's why for the last two years we have been active in trying to ensure that Bashar Assad exits the stage, and that we can begin a political transition process.

That's the reason why we've invested so much in humanitarian aid. That's the reason why we are so invested in helping the opposition; why we've mobilized the international community to isolate Syria. That's why we are now providing nonlethal assistance to the opposition, and that's why we're going to continue to do the work that we need to do.

And in terms of the costs and the benefits, I think there would be severe costs in doing nothing. That's why we're not doing nothing. That's why we are actively invested in the process. If what you're asking is, are there continuing reevaluations about what we do, what actions we take in conjunction with other international partners to optimize the day when -- or to hasten the day when we can see a better situation in Syria -- we've been doing that all along and we'll continue to do that.

I think that, understandably, there is a desire for easy answers. That's not the situation there. And my job is to constantly measure our very real and legitimate humanitarian and national security interests in Syria, but measuring those against my bottom line, which is what's in the best interest of America's security and making sure that I'm making decisions not based on a hope and a prayer, but on hard-headed analysis in terms of what will actually make us safer and stabilize the region.

I would note -- not to answer the question that you lobbed over to President Park -- that you suggested even in your question a perceived crossing of a red line. The operative word there, I guess, Stephen, is "perceived." And what I've said is that we have evidence that there has been the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, but I don't make decisions based on "perceived." And I can't organize international coalitions around "perceived." We've tried that in the past, by the way, and it didn't work out well.

So we want to make sure that we have the best analysis possible. We want to make sure that we are acting deliberately. But I would just point out that there have been several instances during the course of my presidency where I said I was going to do something and it ended up getting done. And there were times when there were folks on the sidelines wondering why hasn't it happened yet and what's going on and why didn't it go on tomorrow? But in the end, whether it's bin Laden or Qaddafi, if we say we're taking a position, I would think at this point the international community has a pretty good sense that we typically follow through on our commitments.

PRESIDENT PARK: With regard to actions toward Syria, what kind of message would that communicate to North Korea? -- that was the question. And recently North Korea seems to be deescalating its threats and provocations -- what seems to be behind that? You asked these two questions. In fact, North Korea is isolated at the moment, so it's hard to find anyone that could really accurately fathom the situation in North Korea. Its actions are all so very unpredictable. Hence, whether the Syrian situation would have an impact is hard to say for sure.

Why is North Korea appearing to deescalate its threats and provocations? There's no knowing for sure. But what is clear and what I believe for sure is that the international community with regard to North Korea's bad behavior, its provocations, must speak with one voice -- a firm message, and consistently send a firm message that they will not stand, and that North Korea's actions in breach of international norms will be met with so-and-so sanctions and measures by the international community. At the same time, if it goes along the right way, there will be so-and-so rewards. So if we consistently send that message to North Korea, I feel that North Korea will be left with no choice but to change.

And instead of just hoping to see North Korea change, the international community must also consistently send that message with one voice to tell them and communicate to them that they have no choice but to change, and to shape an environment where they are left with no choice but to make the strategic decision to change. And I think that's the effective and important way.

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