President Barack Obama said the effort that led to the release of two Americans held in North Korea did not involve “high level policy discussions” or talks about the country’s nuclear program.
“We had an indication that there was a possibility of a release of these two hostages, prisoners, and we pursued it,” Obama said Monday in Beijing during his bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The president landed in China earlier in the day for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings.
Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, the last two American citizens known to be held by North Korea, were released after James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence, went to Pyongyang, a senior administration official told CNN on Saturday.
Clapper carried with him a letter from Obama addressed to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In his comments Monday, Obama said the talks that involved the Americans’ release “did not touch on some of the broader issues that have been the source of our primary concern when it comes to North Korea.”
He said it’s a “good news story” but argued there’s still a “broader fundamental conflict” with North Korea over is nuclear capacity.
Obama suggested that in addition to “small gestures like the ones that we saw with the release of these individuals,” it will take “a broader understanding” by North Korea that countries in the region consider their top priority to be the prevention of a nuclearized Korean peninsula.
“And up until this point at least we have not seen serious engagement on the part of Pyongyang to deal with that problem,” he said.
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