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North Korea rebuffs Obama's warnings at nuclear summit (+video)

President Obama's admonition against firing a long-range rocket next month went unheeded by North Korea, which argued it is for economic development. Will China and Russia have any sway?

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / March 27, 2012

US President Obama listens to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (r.) during opening remarks of the plenary session of the Nuclear Security Summit at the Coex Center in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday. At left is Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Susan Walsh/AP

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Seoul, South Korea

President Obama’s warnings of dire “consequences” if North Korea fires a long-range rocket next month encountered a quick and firm rebuff today from Pyongyang that underscored the North's determination to keep up its nuclear and missile programs in the face of widespread international condemnation.

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President Obama says the United States and China have common interest in dealing with North Korea and Iran.

 As Obama flew home tonight after three days of intense talking about a range of nuclear issues at a conference of leaders of more than 50 countries, the sense among analysts here was that he had made little if any headway in tamping down North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a lengthy defense of the North's insistence on going through with the plan to fire the rocket, stressed that the reason is to put a satellite into orbit.

North Korea “will not give up the satellite launch for peaceful purposes,” the spokesman was quoted as saying. The launch was “a legitimate right of a sovereign state” and was “essential for economic development.”

The emphasis on “economic development” appeared as a rebuff not only of President Obama but also of China’s President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Both of them, in talks with Obama on the sidelines of the two-day nuclear security summit, expressed concern about North Korea’s insistence on firing the rocket. They clearly did not have a rocket launch in mind when they urged the North to focus on economic development.

The global leaders agreed, after final sessions of the summit, on a declaration against all forms of nuclear terrorism that said not a word about the issues on the minds of all of them – the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran.

“China is certainly talking politely,” says Han Sung-joo, a former foreign minister and ambassador to Washington, “but I don’t think China will actually do that” – that is, risk upsetting the North Koreans by withholding some of the fuel and with which it keeps its North Korean protectorate alive.

Instead, Mr. Han predicts, “China will try to persuade South Korea to make it to six-party talks” on North Korea’s nuclear program. The talks, hosted by China, including the United States, Japan, Russia, and the two Koreas, were last held in Beijing in December 2008 – and are still regarded as essential in bringing about rapprochement on the Korean peninsula.

Sense that North will get away with launch

The irony is the abiding sense that North Korea can get away with firing the rocket, despite all protests, on the calculated gamble that all rhetoric will fail to gain significant traction in the run-up to the US presidential election in November and South Korea’s election in November.

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