President Obama was awakened at 3:55 a.m. Tuesday to a fresh foreign policy problem: North Korea’s deadly artillery attack against a South Korean island.
It wasn’t enough of a disaster to change Obama’s plans for the day — a trip to Kokomo, Ind., to talk about jobs and the economy and an interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters— but it prompted a scrambling of top national security aides in Washington, plans to call to South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and a new look at where North Korea sits on his administration’s list of priorities. The White House response made clear the president and his advisers took the latest act of aggression from North Korea — the shelling of the tiny island of Yeonpyeong — seriously.
On Air Force One, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters that “the president is outraged” by North Korea’s aggression and committed to South Korea’s defense. In the Situation Room at the White House, at least 20 of Obama’s top national security aides, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, convened at 4 p.m. ET to discuss the matter. Also at the meeting: Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and James Clapper, the Director of National intelligence. Obama dropped by the meeting when he returned from Kokomo. At the White House, Obama was scheduled to call Lee — who would just be waking up — at 9 p.m. ET to confer. (Obama has committed to Mideast peace talks that are “going nowhere” and a new arms-reduction treaty with Russia that “has no advantages” for the United States, he said. In doing so, the administration has sent “messages to the Iranians and the North Koreans that they’re not at the top of his radar. … One could argue that that’s why they’re becoming so aggressive.”)