The week ahead: Iran, North Korea loom over nuclear summit

Obama held bilateral meetings with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday ahead of the summit.

Administration officials said before the trip that North Korea’s satellite launch and Iran’s nuclear program were both likely to be topics of conversation.

Syria was also discussed with Medvedev, as both Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution last month that would have condemned the violence of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Last month, the Obama administration agreed to provide food assistance to North Korea in exchange for the country suspending its nuclear program, which was seen as a potential change of direction under North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un.

White House officials said afterward that they were cautious about the seriousness of the North Koreans’ pledge to stop their nuclear program. Now North Korea’s intention to launch a satellite atop a long-range missile next month has the potential to shred any diplomatic gains, as the Obama administration said the move would violate North Korea’s U.N. resolutions on missile launches.

The Obama administration hopes that China in particular will be able to persuade North Korea not to go forward with the launch.

The New York Times reported that North Korea has warned any discussion of its nuclear program at the summit would be seen as a “declaration of war.”

Obama also visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, and gave a speech at Hankuk University, where he urged North Korea to “have the courage to pursue peace.”

In Congress, the House Armed Services Committee will also touch on the North Korea issue in a hearing Wednesday on “Security in the Korean Peninsula.”

At the same time, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a hearing on U.S. policy toward Iran, where former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright will testify.

The hearings on the 2013 Pentagon budget continue next week in the House and Senate Armed Services committees and Appropriations Defense subcommittees.

On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will consider six Defense Department nominations, including Frank Kendall III as undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics; James Miller as undersecretary for policy; and Erin Conaton as undersecretary for personnel and readiness.