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Obama To Visit Korean Demilitarized Zone

United States President Barack Obama will visit the so-called Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas for the first time on March 25, the White House announced on Tuesday.

The purpose of his visit to the DMZ is for "underscoring the President's support for the American troops who are serving on the Korean Peninsula, and our support for the Republic of Korea, our very close and strong treaty ally," Daniel Russel, White House National Security Council Senior Director for Asia, said at a conference call previewing the trip.

Notably, Russel referred to South Korea by using its official name. North and South Korea technically remain at war even now, as the Korean war ended in an armistice in 1953, and not in a peace treaty.

Obama's visit to the 2.5-mile-wide DMZ is planned to take place during his three-day trip to South Korea to participate in a summit in Seoul on nuclear security. Top officials from 54 countries, including China and Russia, will be attending the summit.

The Obama is scheduled to hold talks with his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak ahead of the summit starting on March 26. He is also expected to pressurize Chinese President Hu Jintao to use his country's influence on North Korea to persuade Pyongyang to roll back its disputed nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Earlier, North Korea announced a moratorium on its nuclear tests, uranium enrichment, and long-range missile tests in exchange for food aid, following a third round of talks with the United States in Beijing last month.

In return to the North's subsequent positive gesture, Washington agreed to meet with North Korean officials in the immediate future to finalize administrative details necessary to move forward with its proposed package of 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance with the prospect of additional aid based on continued need.

But a North Korean announcement last week on its plans to launch a rocket-mounted satellite into space has cast doubts on the successful implementation of the deal. The Communist nation's announcement has indicated that it plans to launch the rocket-mounted satellite between April 12 and 16 to mark the birth centenary of the country's founder Kim Il Sung, which falls on April 15.

Pyongyang insists that the planned rocket launch is intended to put the country's "technology of space use for peaceful purposes on a higher stage." But the United States has termed it as a "highly provocative" move that violates North Korea's "international obligations" under U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolutions which prohibit North Korea from conducting launches that use ballistic missile technology.

In response to the international concerns about its planned rocket launch next month, North Korea urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) earlier this week to send its inspectors to the reclusive country almost three years after expelling them from there.

The U.S.-North Korea talks held in the Chinese capital last month were originally aimed at convincing the North to rejoin the currently stalled six nation aid-for-nuclear disarmament negotiations. North Korea had pulled out of the six-nation negotiations, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, in April 2009 despite agreeing in 2005 to roll back its nuclear program in exchange for aid during an earlier round of negotiations in Beijing.

North Korea's withdrawal from the talks came after the UNSC condemned it for launching a rocket and imposed sanctions on several of its firms. The North insisted it had launched only a communications satellite, but the U.S. and its allies believe Pyongyang had test-fired a long-range missile under the pretext of launching a satellite into space.

North Korea reacted to U.N. sanctions by expelling U.S. nuclear experts and IAEA inspectors monitoring its Yongbyon nuclear complex, conducting a nuclear test in May 2009 and test-firing several ballistic missiles. The UNSC responded to the North Korean actions by slamming tougher sanctions on the impoverished country.

Diplomatic efforts to restart the six-party talks gained momentum last year, but the death of North Korea's long-time leader Kim Jong-il on December 17 had left prospects for resumption of talks uncertain. The international community has since been keenly watching the North's untested new leader Kim Jong-un, who took over the regime after the death of his father Kim Jong-il.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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