Obama asks Pyongyang to recommit to nuclear disarmament

US President Barack Obama told North Korea relations betrween the two countries could improve if it abandoned its nuclear programme, after two US journalists freed by North Korea - with the help of with former president Bill Clinton - returned home.


AFP - The United States celebrated the homecoming Wednesday of two journalists freed by North Korea but said Pyongyang must be willing to recommit to abandon its nuclear program for relations to improve.

"We were very clear this was a humanitarian mission," President Barack Obama said in an interview with MSNBC television.

"We have said to the North Koreans there is a path for improved relations, and it involves them no longer developing nuclear weapons and not engaging in the provocative behavior they have been engaging in," he said.

Former president Bill Clinton, who flew back to California with journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling after a surprise mission to Pyongyang, spoke briefly with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, officials said.


But officials said they were awaiting a fuller debriefing before providing details on the outcome of former president's trip and his dinner and discussions with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

They rejected suggestions that Clinton's trip, made at Obama's request and coordinated with senior US officials, represented a concession to Pyongyang, which has ratcheted tensions in recent months with missile firings and a second nuclear test.

"The ball is really in the North's court on this issue," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

"The North Koreans need to recommit to the six-party framework, which means coming back to the table," he said.

He said they needed to show a willingness to "continue negotiating on or shall I say implementing the goals as outlined in the joint statement of 2005," under which North Korea committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons.

North Korea pulled out of the six party talks, which involve South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, in April after launching a long-range missile, drawing UN condemnation.

On May 25, it conducted a second nuclear test, prompting the UN Security Council to issue tougher sanctions aimed in part at clamping down on proliferation of its missiles and nuclear technology.

"The best way to change our relationship with North Korea would be for the North Koreans to decide that it is time to live up to the responsibilities and the agreements that they themselves entered into," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling with Obama to Indiana that the president viewed the nuclear issue separately from the case of the journalists, who were detained in March near North Korea's border.

Before Clinton got on the plane to Pyongyang, the US government had confirmed that the North Koreans would release the journalists to him, a senior State Department official said on condition of anonymity.

The journalists had told their families in a telephone conversation in mid-July that the North Koreans wanted Clinton to come, the official said.

The message was relayed to former vice president Al Gore, co-founder of Current TV, the California-based television station that the journalists worked for, and he in turned raised it with the administration.

Clinton was asked to make the trip around July 24 or 25.

"He wanted to make sure there was going to be a realistic possibility, he could go to North Korea and leave with the two journalists," the official. "We finally got those assurances that if the president were to come they would be released."


Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning