U.S., South Korea present united front on Pyongyang


WASHINGTON - With a common voice and conciliatory words, President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun expressed hope yesterday that they can diplomatically persuade North Korea to forfeit its nuclear weaponry.

"South Korea and the United States share the same goal, and that is a Korean Peninsula without a nuclear weapon," Bush said, calling North Korea's return to stalled multinational talks "essential."

"The way to join the community of nations is to listen to China and South Korea and Japan and Russia - and the United States - and that is to give up nuclear weapons," Bush said. "And we'll continue to work, to have one voice."

The two leaders made no mention of referring the controversy over North Korea's avowed nuclear weaponry to the United Nations Security Council - a point of contention between them, with the United States warning that it will press for U.N. involvement if negotiations fail.

Some within the Bush administration view that move as inevitable if North Korea does not soon return to "six-party talks" involving the United States, the Koreas, China, Japan and Russia. The talks have been stalled for a year.

And Bush, who has aimed some of his most heated rhetoric at North Korea and its leader, made another point yesterday of publicly referring to him with the honorific as "Mr. Kim Jong Il."

Bush and his South Korean counterpart are pushing for resumption of six-party talks with the unequivocal goal of North Korea's abandonment of nuclear weapons.

"Every time we meet together, Mr. President, questions abound regarding the possible existence of differences between Korea and the United States surrounding the North Korea nuclear issue," Roh said in a noontime Oval Office appearance with Bush. "But every time I meet you, Mr. President, in person, I come to the realization that there, indeed, is no difference between our two sides with regard to the basic principles."

Roh, playing down any hint of "discord or cacophony between the two" on the question of North Korea, asserted "that our alliance remains solid." They have other differences, Roh allowed, suggesting that these will be settled "smoothly."

Several representatives of the United States and North Korea met earlier this week at the North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York in an arrangement the White House has described as a channel for messages between the two, not a forum for negotiations. There, according to White House and State Department officials, the North Koreans voiced a commitment to continue the six-party talks but stopped short of indicating a date when North Korea might return to the table.

On the sidelines, however, North Korea has insisted it has its own unstated demands that the United States must meet for any resumption of stalled talks over Pyongyang's nuclear weaponry.

"As for the resumption of the six-party talks, it entirely depends on the U.S. response to [the North Korean government] call for creating conditions and an environment for their resumption," the official Korean Central News Agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying this week.

In both rhetoric and substance, the standoff between the United States and North Korea has been marked by acrimony since Bush, in his 2002 State of the Union address, called the totalitarian regime part of an "axis of evil" including Iraq and Iran.

In January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described North Korea as an "outpost of tyranny," and Bush has called the North Korean leader a "tyrant" - though Bush notably softened his language for the North Korean leader in a speech May 31, referring to him as "Mr. Kim Jong Il."

"As long as the United States adheres to its anachronistic hostile policy toward [North Korea], a stumbling block in resolution of the nuclear problem cannot be removed," North Korea's state-run newspaper said in a commentary.

North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and evicted U.N. inspectors in 2002, after the Bush administration accused North Korea of violating a 1994 agreement to freeze its nuclear weapons program. In February, North Korea announced that it had nuclear weapons.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan told ABC News this week that his nation has enough bombs "to defend against a U.S. attack."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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