- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

President Bush yesterday took aim at Democrats who demand he open direct talks with North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-il, saying they are the same critics who charged he acted unilaterally when he invaded Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein.

“I can remember the time when it was said that the Bush administration goes it alone too often in the world, which I always thought was a bogus claim to begin with,” the president said in a press conference at the White House Rose Garden.

But Mr. Bush said one-on-one talks with North Korea “didn’t work in the past,” and reiterated support for continued pressure from regional leaders to restart the stalled six-party talks, in which the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia deal jointly with North Korea.

“I learned a lesson from that and decided that the best way to convince Kim Jong-il to change his mind on a nuclear weapons program is to have others send the same message,” the president said.

He called on the U.N. Security Council to quickly hand down “serious repercussions” for North Korea’s purported nuclear test on Monday.

While Mr. Bush said the United States has “no intention of attacking” the communist country and remains committed to diplomacy, he added that “all options to defend our friends in the region” remain on the table.

He again backed new ballistic missile defenses in the region to protect U.S. allies.

In an hour-long session with reporters, Mr. Bush also defended his strategy to secure Iraq, saying “we’re constantly changing tactics.”

In the face of criticism from leading Republican lawmakers — including the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, who said the situation in Iraq is moving “sideways” — the president sought to put the best face on the war.

“I want you to notice what he did say is, if the plan is now not working — the plan that’s in place isn’t working, America needs to adjust. I completely agree,” he said.

“I believe that the situation in Iraq is, no question, tough on the American psyche. … Look, the American people want to know, can we win — that’s what they want to know — and do we have a plan to win? There are some who say, get out, it’s not worth it. And those are some of the voices, by the way, in the Democrat Party.”

The president’s remarks came as the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said he plans to keep the current level of soldiers in Iraq through 2010, a later date than Bush administration or Pentagon officials have mentioned thus far.

Without naming former President Bill Clinton, Mr. Bush harshly criticized the 1994 bilateral agreement that traded money and oil for a promise from North Korea to put its plutonium under lock and key.

“We all agree that there must be a strong Security Council resolution that will require North Korea to abide by its international commitments to dismantle its nuclear programs,” he said.

“This resolution should also specify a series of measures to prevent North Korea from exporting nuclear or missile technologies, and prevent financial transactions or asset transfers that would help North Korea develop its nuclear and missile capabilities.”

Democrats repeated calls for a new direction on Iraq and North Korea, with Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean saying “the stakes are too high to have a permanent commitment to a failed strategy in Iraq.”

“North Korea has increased its nuclear capabilities by 400 percent and tested a nuclear weapon because the Bush administration took its eye off the ball,” he said.

“Iran has also become an even greater threat. And still, the president refuses to listen to the advice of his own party’s leaders like Senator John Warner and [former] Secretary [James A.] Baker, who have spoken out on the need for a new direction in Iraq and acknowledged that we sometimes must talk with our adversaries.”

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