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Park: South Korea-US alliance 'a linchpin for peace' in Asia

At a press conference with President Park Geun-hye, President Barack Obama said the US and South Korea are 'as united as ever' 60 years after forming an alliance.

Park obama meeting 201305 07Enlarge
US President Barack Obama meets with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 7, 2013. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korea’s recently elected president, Park Geun-hye, met US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office today and held a joint news conference with him during which she called the US-South Korea alliance "a linchpin for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in Asia.”

More from GlobalPost: North Korea to take center stage during South Korean president’s visit to US

Park's visit to the United States is her first trip abroad since becoming president and marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.

In an interview with CBS News broadcast on Monday, Park said she would like to find a way to move beyond Pyongyang's current antagonistic relationship with South Korea.

“North Korea engages in provocations, threats,” Park said. “This is followed by negotiations and assistance, and so we saw an endless continuation of this vicious cycle, and it is time for us to put an end to the cycle.” She added: “North Korea must change. That is the only way for survival.”

During today's joint press conference, both Park and President Obama reiterated this message, seeming to speak directly to North Korean officials at times.

"I take this opportunity to once again send a clear message: North Korea will not be able to survive if it only clings to developing its nuclear weapons at the expense of its people’s happiness," Park said. “However, should North Korea choose the path to becoming a responsible member of the community of nations, we are willing to provide assistance together with the international community.”

"The days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions are over," Obama said.

“President Park and myself very much share the view that we are going to maintain a strong deterrent capability, that we’re not going to reward provocative behavior, but we remain open to the prospect of North Korea taking a peaceful path of denuclearization, abiding by international commitments, rejoining the international community," he added.

"If what North Korea’s been doing has not resulted in a strong, prosperous nation, now’s a good time for Kim Jung Un to evaluate that history and take a different path," Obama said.

Obama and Park also confirmed they would be continuing to implement the free trade agreement that the US and South Korea signed a year ago. Obama said he expected the pact to boost US exports by $10 billion and support tens of thousands of American jobs while creating jobs in South Korea.

"On our side, we’re selling more exports to Korea, more manufactured goods, more services, more agricultural products," Obama noted. "Our automobile exports are up nearly 50 percent.”

Park’s visit is an opportunity for her to bond with Obama, who had a close working relationship with the previous South Korean leader, Lee Myung-bak, according to the Associated Press.

“She has big shoes to fill,” Victor Cha, senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy center, said in a briefing last week, according to Bloomberg News. Obama “really did like Lee Myung-bak, and so I think there will be an effort to try to build or replicate, perhaps in a different fashion, the same sort of personal relationship.”

If the press conference was any indication, the relationship is off to a good start. Obama praised Park's "focus and discipline and straightforwardness.”

“President Park is tough,” he said. “I think she has a very clear, realistic view of the (North Korea) situation, but she also has the wisdom to believe that conflict is not inevitable, it is not preferable.”

On Wednesday, Park will address a joint meeting of Congress – an honor reserved for the United States' closest allies – and give a talk to the US Chamber of Commerce about the Korea-US free trade agreement.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/south-korea/130507/south-korean-president-meets-us-president-oval