North Korea on Monday threatened to take a "physical counter-action" if the United States follows through with plans to deploy an advanced missile defense system in the South.
As we detailed previously, Obama described the North Korean regime as "a massive challenge."
"Our first priority is to protect the American people and our allies, the Republic of Korea, Japan, that are vulnerable to the provocative actions that North Korea is engaging in," Mr. Obama said.
He said North Korea is "erratic enough" and the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, is "irresponsible enough that we don't want them getting close."
"But it's not something that lends itself to an easy solution," Mr. Obama said. "We could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals. But aside from the humanitarian costs of that, they are right next door to our vital ally, Republic of Korea."
So how is Obama preparing to fend off threats from North Korea? It appears that the US will set up a missile defense system to surround North Korea and shoot down any future flying nuisances.
"One of the things that we have been doing is spending a lot more time positioning our missile defense systems, so that even as we try to resolve the underlying problem of nuclear development inside of North Korea, we're also setting up a shield that can at least block the relatively low-level threats that they're posing right now," Obama said.
Which has apparently upset Kim and his buddies... As Military.com's Kim Gamel reports,
The warning came three days after Washington and Seoul agreed to establish a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, known as THAAD, on the divided peninsula to guard against missiles being developed by the North.
North Korea vowed to "take a physical counter-action to thoroughly control THAAD, aggression means of the U.S. for world domination, from the moment its location and place have been confirmed in South Korea," according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The report cited the Artillery Bureau of the General Staff for the Korean People's Army.
"The U.S. had better understand that the more massively it introduces war weapons to South Korea and its vicinity, the closer they will come into the firing range of the KPA and the more miserable end the U.S. will meet without even a moment to make a shrill cry," it said.
KCNA also criticized South Korea for allowing the system to be deployed on its territory. The two countries are technically still at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. service members are stationed in the South.
"We once again warn the enemies that it is the steadfast will of the KPA to make merciless retaliatory strikes to reduce South Korea to a sea in flames, debris once an order is issued," the report said.
South Korea's Ministry of Defense said it was ready to respond in kind.
"North Korea needs to clearly see who is responsible for putting the Korean peninsula's peace and security at risk before criticizing the THAAD deployment decision," ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said in a press briefing.
"If North Korea continues its groundless claims and rash actions in defiance of our warnings, it will have to face our military's stringent retaliation," he added.
South Korean officials have said a joint working group is close to announcing the best site for THAAD, although the actual location will be kept secret for security reasons. The South Koreans expressed hope the system will be in operation by the end of next year.
China, a traditional Pyongyang ally, also has strongly objected to the decision to deploy THAAD on the peninsula. Beijing fears the radar system could be used to track its military movements.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye insisted it is a "purely defensive measure, according to the Yonhap news agency.
"THAAD will not target any country other than North Korea and will not encroach upon the security interests of any third country. We have no reason to do so," she was quoted as saying Monday during a meeting with her senior secretaries.
North Korea has defiantly continued its nuclear weapons program despite international condemnation and toughened U.N. sanctions.
It fired a missile from a submarine on Saturday, although South Korean officials said it failed in the early stages of flight. That was the latest in a series of missile launches as tensions have risen after the North staged its fourth underground atomic test in January.
The U.S. also slapped new sanctions on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other top officials last week for alleged human rights abuses. Pyongyang responded by calling the move "an open declaration of war."
Of course, Obama's THAAD move is surprising considering North Korea has no chance of ever launching a fully functioning ICBM, let alone one which can reach the US.
So what is the unsaid impetus for this move? Perhaps it is simply to deploy even more ships and military equipment in the region where recent diplomatic posturing between the US and China over various contested islands in the South China Sea has been the biggest geopolitical threat in recent years.
"How aggressive do you see the action in the South China Sea? And do you worry that they will cross some line, in which you'll have to respond more aggressively?" Rose asked the president.
"I've been consistent, since I've been president, in believing that a productive, candid relationship between the United States and China is vital, not just to our two countries, but to world peace and security," Mr. Obama said.
It's not a zero-sum game, Mr. Obama added.
"What is true, though, is that they have a tendency to view some of the immediate regional issues or disputes as a zero-sum game," he said. "So with respect to the South China Sea, rather than operate under international norms and rules, their attitude is, 'We're the biggest kids around here. And we're gonna push aside the Philippines or the Vietnamese.' ... But it doesn't mean that we're trying to act against China. We just want them to be partners with us. And where they break out of international rules and norms, we're going to hold them to account."