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Obama: North Korea Prisoner Release a Good ‘Small Gesture,’ but Not Enough

“When and if North Korea becomes serious about denuclearization..."

President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with more than 20 foreign defense ministers on the ongoing operations against the Islamic State group, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Obama and military chiefs in a show of strength against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Barack Obama called the release of two Americans being held prisoner in North Korea an important start, but said more work needs to be done by the Pyongyang government to engage with the rest of the world.

President Barack Obama speaks about the economy, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Obama is looking to frame the closing economic arguments of the midterm campaign. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) AP Photo/Evan Vucci AP Photo/Evan Vucci

“I couldn't be happier for the families as we enter into the holidays to know that their loved ones are back. It's a good-news story,” Obama told reporters in Beijing Monday. “We continue, though, to have a broader fundamental conflict with the North Koreans and it's going to take, I think in addition to small gestures like the ones that we saw -- the release of these individuals -- a broader understanding on the part of the North Koreans that all the countries in the region, including China, including the Republic of Korea, including Japan consider this to be their number-one security priority -- making sure that we do not have a nuclearized Korean Peninsula.”

He said that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper did not carry out high-level policy discussions in the negotiations of the prisoner release.

Obama made the comments in the joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot. Both leaders are attending the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in China.

“When and if North Korea becomes serious about denuclearization on the Peninsula and is prepared to have a conversation around that topic, then the United States is going to be very open to trying to arrive at a solution that over the long term could lead to greater prosperity and security for North Korea,” Obama said.

Obama also took a question regarding the Chinese government’s handling of the Hong Kong protests, which the president said he would bring up with Chinese President Xi Jinping, while also “recognizing that we also have significant interest in business to do with China.”

“Respect for human rights, respect for the dignity of individuals I don’t believe is unique to America, it’s not unique to the West,” Obama said. “I think people have aspirations for a certain amount of freedom and dignity, and the ability to shape their own lives all around the globe and I’m proud that despite the fact that in too many places those rights aren’t always observed, that we’re consistently a voice encouraging more space for those voices.”

Obama said the United States and allies have made progress on the initial goal of stopping the momentum of the Islamic State, the Sunni terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.

“So the next phase is for us to train and assist Iraqi security forces so that they can begin to build up and go on offense,” Obama said. “We can provide close air support, we can provide logistics and intelligence, but ultimately they’re the ones who are going to have to fight to push ISIL out of some of these areas that they’ve taken over and in order for us to do that, we’re going to have to have more trainers on the ground, and that is the reason why I authorized this additional number of U.S. troops.”

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