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Obama: 'Isolate' North Korea for 'Continuous, Provocative Behavior'

President Obama speaks during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Herrenhausen Palace in Hannover, northern Germany, on April 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

President Obama said alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany today that the United States is “still analyzing and assessing with precision the activities that North Korea engaged in over the last several days” before elaborating on any potential response.

South Korea, meanwhile, said Saturday’s submarine-launched ballistic missile launch in the Sea of Japan is an “open provocation” that requires a response, while North Korea called the launch one more demonstration that it can strike the U.S.

“We will take necessary steps in close cooperation with related countries,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said today. “Regardless of whether the test was a success or not, it is a clear violation of UNSC resolutions.”

“The government has warned on various occasions that the North would face stronger and more stern responses from the international community in the event of its additional provocation,” Cho said. “We will further strengthen our efforts to increase pressure on the North through the faithful implementation of the UNSC sanctions resolution and international cooperation.”

The UN Security Council said in a statement today that members “would continue to closely monitor the situation and take further significant measures in line with the council’s previously expressed determination.”

Obama said he’d “let the Pentagon and our intelligence community debrief everyone once we have precise information.”

The administration issued no statements on the launch over the weekend.

“What is clear is that North Korea continues to engage in continuous, provocative behavior; that they have been actively pursuing a nuclear program, an ability to launch nuclear weapons. And although more often than not they fail in many of these tests, they gain knowledge each time they engage in these tests. And we take it very seriously. And so do our allies, and so does the entire world,” Obama said.

“And it’s for this reason why we have continually mobilized the international community to isolate North Korea, to crank up the sanctions that impose a cost on Kim Jong-un and Pyongyang, and why we’ve cultivated cooperation with the Chinese to put more pressure on North Korea,” the president continued. “And although it is not where we would completely like it to be, I will say that we’ve seen the Chinese be more alarmed and take more seriously what North Korea is doing, and they have been willing to be more forward-leaning in exacting a price on North Korea’s destructive behavior.”

Obama added that “we don’t take seriously a promise to simply halt until the next time they decide to do a test these kinds of activities.”

“What we’ve said consistently, dating back to the six-party talks, is that if North Korea shows seriousness in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, then we will be prepared to enter into some serious conversations with them about reducing tensions and our approach to protecting our allies in the region. But that’s not something that happens based on a press release in the wake of a series of provocative behaviors. They’re going to have to do better than that,” he continued.

“And until they do, we’re going to continue to emphasize our work with the Republic of Korea and Japan, and our missile defense mechanisms, to assure that we’re keeping the American people safe and we’re keeping our allies safe.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), whose North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act was signed by Obama in February, said Saturday that Pyongyang’s “illegal, provocative action, attempting to launch a ballistic missile from a submarine, highlights the growing danger Kim Jong-un’s regime poses to the region and the homeland.”

“Regardless of whether the latest launch was successful, their technology is rapidly advancing and capabilities are growing. The latest development is further evidence that the U.S. should move forward urgently with applying additional sanctions, pursuant to my legislation, to stop the Forgotten Maniac,” Gardner said.

“The administration must ratchet up pressure now on North Korea and its enablers, no matter where they are based, in order to protect the US homeland and our allies in the region and ultimately, peacefully disarm the regime.”

The Pyongyang-run Korean Central News Agency hailed the launch — which, according to South Korea’s defense ministry, flew just 18 miles — today as  “eye-opening success” that underscored “the reliability of the Korean-style underwater launching system.”

KCNA quoted Kim as claiming North Korea “is now capable of hitting the heads of the South Korean puppet forces and the U.S. imperialists anytime as it pleases.”