As North Korea ratcheted up its threats regarding a planned missile launch, President Barack Obama took a few minutes out of today's Group of 20 summit in London to meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak this morning. The meeting—which underlined the two countries' desire for cooperation, particularly in the face of North Korean aggression—was just one in a litany of sensitive negotiations on Obama's plate during his first trip overseas as president.
Obama's meeting with Lee came at an especially crucial time. North Korea has reportedly begun fueling a test missile that experts think could launch as soon as this weekend. North Korea also ramped up its hostile rhetoric in the lead-up to the launch, particularly against Japan, which has said that if it is either in the rocket's path or endangered from its debris, it will shoot the missile down. North Korea says that the rocket will head over Japan, aimed for the Pacific. Today, North Korea threatened to send a "thunderbolt of fire" down on Japan if it tried to interfere with the rocket.
According to a statement following Obama's meeting with Lee, the two leaders agreed to "continue close cooperation" in the effort to peacefully end North Korea's nuclear programs through the six-party negotiations. A statement from South Korea said that the two leaders agreed on the need for a "stern" international response if North Korea launches a long-range rocket." "I think there was a striking unanimity of views on the North Korea issue—frankly, on all issues," a senior administration official said after the meeting.
Along with the North Korean issue, Obama and Lee spoke about the economic crisis, agreeing on the need to avoid protectionism, and made a commitment to working on the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Obama thanked Lee for South Korea's help with reconstruction in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
Obama has undertaken a whirlwind of sensitive negotiations as he tours Europe and attends various summits this week. Yesterday, he had his first face-to-face meetings with Russia's Dmitry Medvedev and, separately, with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Later today, he will meet with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.
Tomorrow, Obama will fly to France and Germany for the 60th-anniversary summit of NATO.