North Korea missile launch is shot to Obama’s foreign-policy strength

North Korea’s long-range missile launch might have failed Thursday, but the attempt presents a real challenge to President Obama by opening a new Republican line of attack in the presidential campaign.

While Pyongyang has a new and untested young leader in Kim Jong Un, the United States faces problems with North Korea similar to those it dealt with under his father, Kim Jong Il.

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GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress blasted Obama after the missile launch late Thursday, accusing him of appeasement.

“Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food-aid deal that proved to be as naïve as it was short-lived," Romney said in a statement.

"At the same time, he has cut critical U.S. missile defense programs and continues to underfund them,” he said. “This incompetence from the Obama administration has emboldened the North Korean regime and undermined the security of the United States and our allies.”

The Obama administration announced a new agreement in February where the United States said it would send food aid to North Korea and Pyongyang would suspend its nuclear testing.

While the White House said after the deal was announced it was skeptical that North Korea would follow through with its claims, the agreement was viewed as a potential change in direction.

Less than two months later, Pyongyang’s missile launch has shown there was ample reason for skepticism.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday before the missile launch that the food aid was in jeopardy, as a “clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that a launch of a ballistic missile would represent makes it virtually impossible for us to go ahead with that program of assistance.”

Pyongyang’s failed launch might not be the last provocation from North Korea; South Korea released intelligence reports earlier this week showing signs that Pyongyang might also be planning to test a nuclear weapon, a step the country has previously taken after missile launches.

Another nuclear test from North Korea would amplify criticism from the GOP for negotiating with North Korea, and could make the issue more prominent in the presidential election.

Obama and the Democrats see foreign policy as a strength for Obama in this year’s presidential race, something not typical for a Democratic candidate.

They believe they can point to a number of achievements, including the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, the end of the Iraq war and the ousting of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

But setbacks in North Korea could dampen the president’s foreign-policy case, particularly with the tense situation over Iran’s nuclear program also on the horizon. A new round of talks with Iran is set to begin in Istanbul on Friday.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) connected the two issues on Thursday, arguing that North Korea’s missile launch made a “mockery” of the Obama administration’s agreement with North Korea on food aid.

“The administration should abandon its naive negotiations with North Korea ... and instead focus on fully funding missile defenses that can protect the United States from ballistic missile threats,” Kyl said in a statement.

In Congress, the North Korea missile launch could provide a jolt to the debate over missile defense, an issue on which the Obama administration and Republicans have frequently clashed.

Like Kyl, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee accused Obama of not properly funding U.S. missile defense programs, as Republicans want more money to go to nuclear modernization and have been critical of potential plans to decrease the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“It appears North Korea has continued to pursue its efforts to strike the American people, while at the same time President Obama has degraded U.S. national missile defense,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement.

“I call on the president to work with me and my committee to restore the investments in our national missile defenses as a prudent and necessary measure to protect the homeland."