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TODAY   |  April 25, 2014

Obama honors South Korea ferry victims

President Obama arrived in South Korea Friday morning, paying respect to the ferry disaster victims. NBC’s White House correspondent Peter Alexander reports.

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>>> meantime, president obama arrived in south korea this morning, the second stop of his asian tour . a country still reeling from last week's tragic ferry disaster. nbc's white house correspondent peter alkpanexander is in seoul . peter, good morning.

>> reporter: natalie, good morning to you. that ferry disaster is really being seen and fell here like a national tragedy. today, president obama expressed america's deepest sympathies to the people of south korea , with more than 300 people, many of them high school students, dead or missing. at south korea 's presidential residence today, president obama led his hosts in a moment of silence. as a show of solidarity, president obama offered items of remembrance, the u.s. flag that flew over the white house the day of the disaster, and a magnolia tree from the white house south lawn , a symbol of renewal to be planted at the high school that lost so many students.

>> i'm a father of two daughters. i can only imagine what the parents are going through at this point.

>> reporter: this afternoon, president obama offered this new warning, if russia doesn't deescalate the crisis in ukraine.

>> is he going to use military force and the kind of destabilizing activities that we've seen so far? that's a choice that he's going to have to make. but we shouldn't make the choice easy for him.

>> reporter: earlier, he laid a wreath at south korea 's national war memorial . in this region, the unpredictability of north korea 's young dictator poses its own constant threat. korean leaders warning the north could conduct another nuclear test to coincide with the president's visit. kim young unremains an inig ma. that's why these never-before-seen photos from kim 's childhood revealed just days ago drew so much attention. the images shown as crowds cheered at a nationally televised concert. kim song min defected 15 years ago. now living in seoul , he runs an anti- north korea radio station and still secretly remains in contact with a network of dissidents trapped inside. under kim jong -un, life hasn't gotten any better. for many people there, it's only gotten worse. they live their lives in fear. on that topic, president obama said north korea is not just a threat to this region, it is a threat to the u.s. as well. tomorrow before heading to malaysia, president obama will get a briefing from officials here at a u.s. military base. matt and natalie, then he will visit with some of the 28,000 american troops who are stationed in this country.

>> all right, peter alexander in seoul , south korea , thank you.