President Barack Obama listens as South Korea President Park Geun-Hye speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
WASHINGTON (AP) — South Korean President Park Geun-hye is getting a grand welcome from Congress as Seoul and Washington resolve to stand firm against North Korean provocations.
Park was to address a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, a day after she and President Barack Obama urged the North's young leader, Kim Jong Un, to abandon nuclear weapons and rejoin the international community.
The strong message of solidarity was delivered amid signs North Korea was moving to dial down tensions that have escalated since it conducted an underground atomic test in February that drew tightened U.N. sanctions.
Obama declared that the days when the North could win concessions by creating a crisis were over. He said the allies would respond to aggression, but he also endorsed Park's goal of building trust with Pyongyang, as long as it honors international commitments, particularly on denuclearization.
"If what North Korea has been doing has not resulted in a strong, prosperous nation, then now's a good time for Kim Jong Un to evaluate that history and take a different path," Obama told reporters Tuesday as he stood alongside Park. "Should he choose to take a different path, not only President Park and myself would welcome it, but the international community as a whole would welcome it."
Park's attempts to build trust with Pyongyang have gained no traction. Relations have only gotten worse since she took office, two weeks after the latest nuclear test — the third conducted by the North since 2006.
Pyongyang recently forced the closure of a joint industrial park that was a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.
But in a sign that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could be subsiding, U.S. officials reported Tuesday that North Korea has removed from a launch site two mobile, medium-range ballistic missiles that had been readied for possible test-firing.
Park, daughter of the late South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, is on her first overseas trip since taking office in late February after winning elections in the now democratic nation, one of Asia's strongest economies.
Her visit also marks the 60th anniversary of the military alliance with the U.S. that maintains 28,500 troops in South Korea.
She becomes the sixth South Korean leader to address a joint meeting of Congress. Her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, who had an unusually close bond with Obama among foreign leaders, was the last to do so in October 2011. Also Wednesday, Park was to address the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
At Tuesday's news conference, Park said the international community needed to send a firm and consistent message that North Korea's provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons would not be tolerated, so it would be compelled to change.
She stressed the importance of the role of China, the North's key ally and economic benefactor. In a nod to its new apparent willingness to put pressure on Pyongyang, Park said China was "faithfully implementing" U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to curb the North's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
In a significant move, one of China's biggest banks said Tuesday it has halted business with a North Korean bank accused by the U.S. of financing Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programs.
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