South Korea prepares for high-profile nuclear summit

South Korea prepares for nuclear summit
A South Korean firefighter participates in an anti-terror exercise on March 9, 2012, in preparation for the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit.

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Story highlights

  • South Korea to host high profile nuclear security summit
  • World leaders to debate nuclear terrorism, security
  • U.S. President Barack Obama will be among over 50 heads of state at meeting
  • North Korea's nuclear ambitions not on agenda, but likely to be discussed on sidelines of talks

It may not be on the official agenda, but North Korea's ears will be burning during the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.

Over 50 heads of state will be meeting in South Korea on March 26 and 27 to discuss nuclear security, just 50 kilometers from a state that is secretive and striving for nuclear weapons.

U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Seoul Sunday and will hold a bilateral meeting with his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak. President Lee has already said he will use the summit to drum up international support against the actions of his northern neighbor.

Pyongyang announced earlier this month it would carry out a "satellite launch" mid-April to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country's founder. Using ballistic missile technology, however, is in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1874 and against a deal struck with the United States earlier this month that it would not carry out nuclear or missile tests in return for food aid.

This announcement has ensured Pyongyang will be discussed on the sidelines of this summit at the same time as it announced it would see any critical statement of its nuclear program as "a declaration of war."

N. Korea halts nuclear activities
N. Korea halts nuclear activities

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WH: N. Korea actions a positive step
WH: N. Korea actions a positive step

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Deal first test of N. Korean leadership
Deal first test of N. Korean leadership

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State-run news agency KCNA announced, "The North's nuclear issues have never existed, in fact, and there is no justification in bringing it up for discussion." In line with its increased rhetoric against the South Korean President, the statement continued, "The Lee group's persistent efforts to place the North's nuclear issue on the agenda of the Seoul summit are nothing but a revelation of its sinister attempt to justify its moves for a nuclear war."

Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group says North Korea has been using this kind of bellicose language with increased regularity over the past weeks: "Much of that is directed to the internal audience in North Korea and is related to the succession dynamics. This is an opportunity for the new leader to present himself as being very strong and standing up to the international community and the South Korean government."

Seoul's nuclear summit will be the second after President Obama hosted the first meeting in Washington in 2010. Obama initiated the biennial summit after presenting his vision of a nuclear-free world in Prague in April 2009. Concerns about Iran's nuclear program, again not on the official agenda, will also be discussed in bilateral meetings between leaders.

The official agenda will deal with nuclear terrorism and how to secure the world's nuclear material. Summit host, President Lee said this week: "Of all acts of terrorism, nuclear terrorism is the most formidable one. It has now become the most lethal risk factor threatening the survival of humanity."

Strengthening global atomic safety will also be a key issue following the tsunami-caused meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan just over a year ago.

South Korea's foreign minister Kim Sung-Hwan told reporters, "As seen in the Fukushima nuclear accident, public fear of radiation exposure causes significant and lasting social and cultural concern. A similar impact could be seen if terrorists attack a nuclear facility."

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