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Obama lauds troops at 'freedom's frontier' and warns North Korea

On a trip to South Korea, President Obama visits the heavily-armed DMZ and warns the regime across the border not to test a long-range missile next month.

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After peering through binoculars into North Korea, Obama returned to this capital 40 miles below the North-South line armed with a warning of “the real consequence” if the North fires the rocket. North Korea, he said, “will have missed an opportunity ... to take a different path from the one they’re taking.”

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North Korea insists it wants to launch the rocket solely to put a satellite into orbit, but experts here do not accept that claim since North Korea conducted similar tests in August 1998 and April 2009.

The widespread view is that Kim Jong-un, in his late 20s, sees next month’s test as a way to solidify his power. “The new leader has to stabilize his position by showing his capability,” says Kim Keung-koo, a nuclear physicist with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute.

Dr. Kim Chang-kyu, a nuclear scientist at the same institute, says North Korea “has the possibility” of firing a nuclear warhead if they can bring it down to a small size but “they are only at the beginning stage.”

Obama’s visit to the demilitarized zone dramatized a confrontation that has persisted since the Korean War ended with an armistice in July 1953.

Clad in a dark windbreaker, Obama looked across the DMZ from Observation Post Ouelette, named for an American soldier killed in the early months of the Korean War in 1950. North Korea, he observed, was “like a time warp, a country that missed 40 to 50 years of progress” and was unable do anything for the “well-being for its people.”

Just south of the DMZ, a 2.5-mile wide strip that stretches across the Korean peninsula, he chatted with US troops sharing duties with South Koreans in and around the truce village of Panmunjom on the North-South line.

“I could not be prouder of what you’re doing,” he told about 50 of them in the mess hall. “You guys are at freedom’s frontier.”

While he was there, reports circulated here that North Korea was already rolling its rocket by train to the launch site.

“The situation remains unsettled,” said Obama, asked what he thought of Kim Jong-un. “It’s not clear who’s calling the shots.” Whoever’s in charge, he surmised, “they have not yet made that strategic pivot where they say what they’re doing is not working.”

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