Thursday, September 14, 2006
Talks 'still key to N Korea nukes'WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun have reaffirmed their desire to draw North Korea back into talks about its nuclear weapons program, playing down their differences over exactly how to deal with Pyongyang.
"We are at the working level of consulting very closely on this issue, but we have not yet reached a conclusion, and this issue is very complex," Roh told reporters in the Oval Office after a meeting with Bush.
Since North Korea began boycotting the disarmament talks in November, the reclusive country has sparked fears around the world as reports circulated that it may be preparing to test a nuclear bomb.
North Korea also defied international warnings and test-launched seven missiles in July.
Some observers have suggested that mixed messages from Washington and Seoul on how to solve the crisis have allowed Pyongyang to augment its nuclear arsenal. The Bush administration favors a hard-line approach, refusing to talk to the North outside of six-nation talks. Roh, on the other hand, has tried to engage Kim Jong Il's communist government.
Bush said the North Korean leader's refusal to come back to the six-party talks had strengthened the alliance of the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia -- the nations facing North Korea in the suspended negotiations.
"If he were to verifiably get rid of his weapons programs, there is clearly a better way forward," Bush said. "And that is the message we've been sending to the North Korean government through the six-party talks."
Roh echoed that. He said the countries were working hard to restart the talks.
"This is not the appropriate time to think about the possibility of a failure of the six-party process," he said through an interpreter.
When asked about further sanctions that might be imposed on North Korea, Roh said that while his government did not call such actions sanctions -- "we do not want to hurt the inter-Korean relations" -- South Korea has suspended rice and fertilizer aid to North Korea, "and this is, in fact, similar to sanctions in its effect."
Asked to describe the incentive for getting North Korea back to the stalled talks, Bush said: "The incentive is for Kim Jong Il to understand there is a better way to improve the lives of his people than being isolated -- that stability in the region is in his interests."
Roh and Bush also discussed Seoul's desire to retake from the United States wartime command of its troops. They also dealt with the reshuffling of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
Bush said the United States "is committed to the security of the Korean Peninsula. Decisions about the placement of our troops and the size of our troops will be made in consultation with the South Korean government."
"We agreed that this is not a political issue," Roh said. "This is an issue that will be discussed through the working-level talks."
The leaders also talked about an ambitious U.S.-South Korean free trade proposal which, if successful, would be the largest for the United States since 1993. Roh, however, faces intense pressure from South Korean farm and labor groups that fear the agreement would cost jobs.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Thursday that both Bush and Roh were hoping for a successful trade agreement.
Bush also said that Roh "strongly advocated the need for there to be a visa waiver for the people of South Korea. I assured him we will work together to see if we can't get this issue resolved as quickly as possible."
Editor's Note: Just yesterday CNN reported on how poorly the relationship between Roh and President Bush's relationship was. Which one is it?
Category: USA, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, China and Russia.