22 March 2012
U.S. officials have confirmed that President Barack Obama will visit the tense demilitarized zone between North and South Korea next week during a visit to Seoul.
White House officials say Obama will visit with American forces Sunday at the DMZ, making it his first event before a high-profile Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the main points of the DMZ visit are to show support for the more than 28,000 U.S. troops serving in Korea and to stress the U.S. security alliance with South Korea.
He said the president's message to North Korea is the same as it has been throughout his administration, that by meeting its obligations and denuclearizing Pyongyang can follow a clear path to better relations with the international community.
The DMZ is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth, with heavily armed North and South Korean forces aligned against one another. The two have remained in a formal state of war since an armistice ended combat in the Korean War in 1953.
Tensions spiked in 2010 with the sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, and a North Korean artillery attack on a border island that killed two marines and two civilians.
U.S. officials noted Tuesday that Obama's visit to the DMZ comes almost exactly two years after the sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 seamen.
The three-day nuclear security summit will be attended by about 50 world leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao. White House officials said Obama will also hold bilateral meetings with Hu and the leaders of Russia and Kazakhstan.