PANMUNJEOM ― U.S. President Barack Obama visited the Panmunjeom Joint Security Area on Sunday ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit.
Obama is the fourth U.S. president to visit the JSA on the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas.
As Obama stepped down from his helicopter, he was greeted by U.S. Forces Korea Commander General James Thurman and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Jung Seung-jo. According to a Combined Forces Command public relations official, this is the first time a four-star general of the Korean military has accompanied a U.S. president on a visit to the JSA.
U.S. President Barack Obama is briefed by military officers at the Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarized Zone near the Panmunjeom Joint Security Area on Sunday. Obama arrived in Korea for the Nuclear Security Summit that begins Monday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Staying in the area for about one hour, Obama visited Camp Bonifas and spoke with U.S. soldiers.
“You guys are at freedom’s frontier,” he was quoted as saying in news reports.
“The contrast between South Korea and North Korea could not be clearer, could not be starker. I could not be prouder of what you do.”
He then spent about 10 minutes talking to South Korean soldiers and observing South Korean and North Korean positions at Observation Post Ouellette. OP Ouellette is manned by South Korean and U.S. troops. Located 25 meters from the military demarcation line, the official division between the South and North, OP Ouellette is the northern most position held by Seoul and its allies.
As he was observing South Korean positions through binoculars, a siren marking 100 days since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was heard. According to U.S. officers based at Camp Bonifas, the North informed them that siren will be sounded earlier that morning. He then observed the North Korean propaganda village where the North Korean flag was flying at half mast. Kim died on Dec. 17 and was succeeded by his youngest son Kim Jong-un.
The younger Kim has so far remained true to his father’s style of dealing with foreign powers. Last month, Pyongyang had agreed to partially freeze its nuclear program and to a moratorium on missile tests in return for 240,000 tons of food aid. However, Pyongyang announced plans to launch a communications satellite between April 12 and 16 to mark the centennial of its founder Kim Il-sung April 15.
Although Pyongyang has claimed that the event will serve “peaceful purposes,” Seoul and Washington condemned the plans saying that the long range rocket technology used in a satellite launch can be put to military use.
By Choi He-suk