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US, South Korea put up a tough front, but it doesn't close door to North (+video)

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Yet a key ingredient of her approach toward the North is her ability to demonstrate a solid US-South Korea alliance, regional experts say – a factor that explains the tone of the Park-Obama summit Tuesday.

Part of Park’s “trust politik” is also to convince the US it can trust her to reengage with Pyongyang when (and if) the opportunity arises.

“What this summit is really about is building a relationship,” says Victor Cha, a former director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council and now the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Even before Park arrived, the White House set out to underscore to North Korea and the world that the two allies stand united in their approach to the North’s provocations.

“In dealing with North Korea, it’s vital we show unity,” Obama’s senior director for Asian affairs, Daniel Russel, said Monday. He said it remains too early to tell if Pyongyang really is pulling back on its provocative actions or is simply “zigzagging.”

He said the US and South Korea agree on a policy of “incremental engagement” with North Korea, but it’s one that can only advance if the North undertakes concrete and permanent steps to dismantle its nuclear program.

The hard part for the US and South Korea won’t be in the outward display of unity, some regional experts say. The “tougher discussion behind the scenes” will be how to balance the dual-track approach to North Korea of keeping up the pressure “coupled with maintaining an opening for dialogue,” says Michael Green, a former senior director for Asia on the National Security Council and now senior vice president for Asia at CSIS. “There really is no elegant solution.”

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