| CAMP BONIFAS, South Korea, March 25
CAMP BONIFAS, South Korea, March 25 U.S.
President Barack Obama visited South Korea's tense border with
the North on Sunday in a show of solidarity with U.S. ally Seoul
and a message of resolve to Pyongyang's new young ruler in his
country's nuclear standoff with the West.
Arriving on the eve of a global summit on nuclear security
hosted by South Korea, Obama flew by helicopter to a U.S. base
on the edge of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to meet troops
stationed there and get a first-hand look at one of the world's
most heavily fortified frontiers.
His tour, which followed in the footsteps of White House
predecessors and bristled with Cold War symbolism, came amid
rising concern over a planned North Korean rocket launch next
month that threatens to derail a deal to resume U.S. food aid.
Washington has condemned reclusive North Korea's rocket
launch plan as a violation of its promise to halt long-range
missile launches, nuclear tests and uranium enrichment. Obama
plans to lobby the leaders of China and Russia at the Seoul
summit to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang.
The White House cast Obama's first visit to the DMZ, which
has bisected the peninsula since the end of the Korean War in
1953, as a way to showcase the strength of the U.S.-South Korean
alliance and thank some of the more than 20,000 American troops
still deployed in South Korea.
From an observation platform near the line of demarcation
that Obama was also set to visit, Obama would have a chance to
peer through binoculars at nearby North Korean border posts.
Televised images of Obama venturing into the heavily mined
DMZ could burnish his commander-in-chief credentials in an
election year and help counter Republican accusations that he
has not been tough enough on America's foes.
But North Korea's defiance is clouding Obama's much-touted
nuclear disarmament agenda, which is also being challenged by
Iran's continued nuclear developments in the face of sanctions
and international criticism.
Obama will join more than 50 other world leaders on Monday
for a follow-up to the inaugural nuclear security summit he
organized in Washington in 2010 to help combat the threat of
While North Korea and Iran are not on the guest list or the
official agenda, they are expected to be the main focus of
Obama's array of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the
Obama's first stop before holding talks with South Korean
President Lee Myung-bak was the DMZ, a 4-km (2.5-mile) wide
buffer that cuts through the peninsula stretching from coast to
coast. Then U.S. president Bill Clinton called it the "scariest
place on Earth" during a visit in 1993.
It was drawn up at the end of the 1950-53 civil conflict,
which ended in a truce that has yet to be finalized with a
permanent peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas in effect still
Obama's visit also coincides with the end of the 100-day
mourning period for the North's long-time leader, Kim Jong-il,
who died in December.
His successor and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, was joined by
other high ranking military and party officials at a ceremony in
Pyongyang on Sunday to pay respects to his father.
(Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Nick Macfie)