President Barack Obama used a U.S. naturalization ceremony in South Korea for American military service members and their spouses to renew calls for Congress to pass immigration reform this year.
“If there’s anything this should teach us, it’s that America is strengthened by our immigrants,” the president said shortly after landing in Seoul, at an event for 13 military members and seven spouses at the National War Memorial where he took part in a wreath laying to honor the dead, including the more than 33,000 Americans killed in the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Obama’s second stop in his four-country swing through the Asia-Pacific region, after a state visit to Japan, will bring a familiar focus on economic and security ties, while placing the U.S. leader in the center of South Korea and Japan’s chilled relationship. Obama arrived amid signs that North Korea may be preparing its fourth nuclear test, underscoring security risks in the region.
There is “no greater strength, no greater essence” than the U.S. ability to attract immigrants, Obama said.
Efforts to pass legislation giving 11 million undocumented residents a path to citizenship have stalled under resistance from Republicans in the House of Representatives. Obama pledged to “keep pushing to get that done this year.”
Obama landed in Seoul with an agenda that includes talks on deterring North Korea and discussions about the role of China in the region, according to administration officials.
One month after Obama arranged a three-way summit in The Hague in an effort to mend ties between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Park Geun Hye, his visit will play a part in thawing the strained relationship between Japan and South Korea. The U.S. is seeking to unite its allies to help counter China’s assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
“What we’ve seen is good progress in this area since the trilateral meeting in The Hague,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Seoul. “There’s a sincere willingness on both sides to build out that cooperation.”
Park had previously rejected offers for direct talks, saying Abe’s administration has sought to deny atrocities committed during Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea, including the Imperial Army’s use of sex slaves. Park eased her stance after Abe told parliament on March 14 he wouldn’t revise Japan’s 1993 apology for the military’s abuse of so-called comfort women.
An important aspect of the visit will be to “keep the ball rolling in terms of re-establishing strong communication channels and sort of a fluid relationship among these three countries,” said Victor Cha, the former director for Asian affairs for President George W. Bush’s National Security Council.
In North Korea, South Korea and Japan have a shared concern, with Japan sitting within range of the country’s ballistic missiles.
“They’re dangerous, and we have to make sure that we are guarding against any provocations getting out of hand,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Abe yesterday.
Obama said a coordinated effort between Japan, South Korea and China would allow for the application of “more and more pressure on North Korea so that at some juncture they end up taking a different course.”
Amid South Korea government warnings of of increased activity at the North’s main nuclear test site, Park reached out to Chinese President Xi Jinping by phone on April 23 and asked him to try and persuade Kim Jong Un’s regime not to conduct a test. A Chinese Foreign Ministry official warned North Korea that aid to the country may be affected if it carried out another test, the Asahi newspaper reported today, citing an unidentified Chinese official.
Obama, in his remarks yesterday, said China’s participation in moving North Korea “in a different direction is critically important.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Phil Mattingly in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Margaret Talev in Washington at email@example.com
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