By David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Friday they were open to negotiations with North Korea on sanctions but Pyongyang needed to show it was serious about abandoning its nuclear weapons program.
Asked if he saw the possibility of a deal with North Korea like that reached with Iran, Obama told a joint news conference after talks with Park in Washington that he saw no indication that North Korea envisioned a future without nuclear weapons.
"At the point where Pyongyang says we are interested in seeing relief from sanctions and improved relations and we are prepared to have a serious conversation about denuclearization, I think it’s fair to say that we’ll be right there at the table," he said.
"We haven’t even gotten to that point yet, because there has been no indication on the part of the North Koreans as there was with the Iranians that they could foresee a future in which they did not possess or were not pursuing nuclear weapons."
Park said it was important to have concerted international efforts towards a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue and said she had agreed with Obama on the need to strengthen diplomatic efforts.
However, she said in language certain to infuriate North Korea: "There is a saying: You can take a horse to the trough, but you can’t make it drink water."
North Korea said in June its nuclear weapons are an "essential deterrence" and it has no interest in a deal like that reached with Iran.
Park said she would seek to strengthen cooperation on the North Korean issue at a three-way summit with China and Japan that she will host in Seoul early next month.
OBAMA URGES PARK TO SPEAK OUT ON CHINA
The United States has been keen to encourage better relations between South Korea and Japan, its two biggest allies in Asia, given concerns about North Korea and an increasingly assertive China.
Park has worked to warm up ties with China and raised some eyebrows in Washington when she attended Beijing's military parade to mark the end of World War Two last month.
Obama said the United States wanted to see a strong South Korean relationship with China, just as it wanted such a relationship itself, but Washington wanted to see Seoul speak out when Beijing did things that weakened international rules.
Obama was apparently referring to China's behavior in pursuit of maritime claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, which has alarmed Asian neighbors.
"Obviously, given the size of China right there on your doorstep, if they are able to act with impunity and ignore rules whenever they want, that's not going to be good for you - whether that's on economic issues or security issues," he said.
Park did not address the issue of Chinese behavior at the news conference.
She said she had agreed with Obama to cooperate closely on possible South Korean participation the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement that was agreed last month.
Park said on Thursday that TPP, the principal economic pillar of Obama's Asian "rebalance" to counteract China's rise, would benefit businesses in both South Korea and the United States if her country were to join.
(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards, Roberta Rampton and Megan Casella; Editing by Louise Ireland)