Obama-N Korea

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, March 18 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is "very focused on" the North Korea problem as he heads to another volatile region on the other side of the world, the White House said Monday.

"I can tell you that the president is very focused on this issue, and that his senior national security team is focused on this issue," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a press briefing.

He was responding to a question about whether Obama is in close consultations with his South Korean, Chinese and Japanese counterparts over North Korea's recent military threats.

Obama is leaving Washington later this week for Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, a reporter pointed out.

Carney insisted the U.S. remains committed to ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

"This means deterring North Korean aggression, protecting our allies and the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," he added.

Carney reiterated that "the U.S. will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, nor will we stand by while it seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States."

North Korea launched a long-range rocket in December, defying international warnings. It also carried out another nuclear test in February, followed by a series of threats to attack the U.S. and South Korea.

Some observers say Pyongyang is raising the ante for direct talks with Washington.

In an interview with ABC News last week, Obama gave unusually detailed views on North Korea.

He said his administration remains firm to break the vicious cycle of North Korea taking provocative acts, resuming talks and winning concessions.

"One thing we've tried to do is to make sure that we're not going to reward bad behavior," Obama said.

"There previously have been patterns where, you know, they bang the spoon on the table and then suddenly they get food aid, or they get other concessions," he added. "Then they come back to the table and negotiate a little bit, and then if they get bored they start provocative actions again. We've broken that pattern."

Obama said even China has started to rethink its policy on North Korea.

"You're starting to see them recalculate and say, 'You know what? This is starting to get out of hand,'" he added. "And, so, we may slowly be in a position where we're able to force a recalculation on the part of North Koreans."

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