SEOUL President Bush today peered into the heart of the “axis of evil” across the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas and sternly told North Korea that “no nation should be a prison for its own people.”
Viewing the DMZ for the first time through rolls of razor wire and minefields, Mr. Bush also repeated his use of the word “evil” to refer to North Korea and laid out his vision for the Pacific peninsula divided by war and ideology for more than 50 years.
“My vision is clear. I see a peninsula that one day is united in commerce and cooperation instead of divided by barbed wire and fear. Korean grandparents should be free to spend their final years with those they love.
“Korean children should never starve while a massive army is fed. No nation should be a prison for its own people,” the president said at Dorasan Train Station, a few hundred yards from the DMZ.
Earlier, at Observation Post Ouellette, a hilltop combat post just 80 feet from the DMZ, Mr. Bush was told by battalion commander Col. William Miller of North Korea’s “Peace Museum” on Pyongyang’s side of the DMZ.
One of the exhibits there displays two axes used to kill two U.S. soldiers 25 years ago while they were trimming vegetation along the DMZ.
Mr. Bush shook his head and said, “No wonder I think they’re evil.”
The president spoke just a few hours after a press conference where he defended his “axis of evil” description and said South Korean President Kim Dae-jung did not object to it.
Mr. Bush visited the DMZ, a 155-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide buffer roughly matching the 38th parallel, just two weeks after labeling North Korea a member of an “axis of evil” that threatened the civilized world with weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Bush spent about 10 minutes of a hazy day atop Observation Post Ouellette, a series of concrete bunkers and radar-reflecting camouflage netting that looks out over North Korea’s Propaganda Village. On a clear day, a person can see 16 miles into North Korea.
Col. Miller pointed out a radio tower among other sites on the other side of the DMZ, a site President Clinton once called “the scariest place on Earth.” Col. Miller noted that North Korea has only two TV channels both state-run. Mr. Bush smiled.
The United States has 37,600 soldiers buttressing a South Korean military of 690,000. Estimates place the North Korean military at more than 1 million soldiers.
The barren hills on the northern side are a stark contrast to the lush landscape to the south. Another clear reminder of the differences between the two nations is a massive road, nearly completed in South Korea but untouched across the DMZ.
Under an agreement reached at summit talks between Mr. Kim of South Korea and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, both sides were to complete the road known as Reunification Highway by this June. While the South appeared ready to meet that deadline, the North halted construction last spring amid rising tensions on the peninsula.
After visiting the site today, Mr. Bush said: “President Kim has just shown me a road he built a road for peace. And he has shown me where that road abruptly ends right at the DMZ.”
The president said the road “has the potential to bring the peoples on both sides of this divided land together, and for the good of all the Korean people, the North should finish it.”
In a joint press conference today after talks with Mr. Kim, Mr. Bush said his “axis of evil” language did not contradict his willingness to talk with North Korea or U.S. support for South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy” of reconciliation with the North.
“I will not change my opinion on Kim Jong-il until he frees his people,” the U.S. president said.
“I made it very clear to the president that I support the Sunshine Policy,” Mr. Bush said. “I’m disappointed that the other side, the North Koreans, will not accept the spirit of the Sunshine Policy.
“I’m willing to have a dialogue with North Korea. I’ve made that offer before yet there has been no response,” he said, adding that the United States has no intention of invading North Korea.
In fact, North Korea’s state-controlled media have kept up a daily propaganda onslaught against the U.S. leader, calling him the head of “an empire of evil” and “the most bellicose and heinous” president ever.
Mr. Kim and Mr. Bush called their discussions “frank” but stated that the U.S.-South Korea alliance remained strong.
“I believe there was no difference of opinion,” Mr. Kim said. “We also concurred that the objective is to resolve the issue of North Korean [weapons of mass destruction] and missiles at an early stage through dialogue.”
Mr. Bush also said the South Korean leader did not criticize his use of the word “evil.”
“During our discussion, President Kim reminded me a little bit about American history when he said that President Reagan referred to Russia as the evil empire and yet was then able to have constructive dialogue with [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev.”
Mr. Bush, speaking today from Dorasan station the last stop on a railway line severed since the 1950-53 Korean War said North Koreans would be surprised if they could cross into the South.
“Traveling south on that road, the people of the North would see not a threat but a miracle of peaceful development Asia’s third-largest economy risen from the ruins of war.
The people of the North would see more than just physical wealth; they would see the creativity and spiritual freedom represented here today.
“They would see a great, hopeful alternative to stagnation and starvation. And they would find friends and partners in the rebuilding of their country.”
Administration officials said Mr. Bush brought to the DMZ a vivid illustration of the disparity: an unclassified satellite photograph that showed lights glowing from homes in South Korea and pitch black across the border in North Korea.
“Obviously, it’s a very compelling visual image of, again, the difference between a government that allows the resources of freedom and its people to be explored, versus a government that represses and oppresses its own people,” senior Bush adviser Karen Hughes said aboard Air Force One.
The president and first lady Laura Bush arrived yesterday in Korea amid extraordinary security. They landed at a Seoul military air base before boarding a helicopter to the U.S. military headquarters in the capital. From there, they took a 30-car motorcade to the U.S. ambassador’s residence.
Thousands of police officers in riot gear patrolled the city streets as hundreds of protesters burned U.S. flags and demonstrated near the military base where the president’s plane landed.
Mrs. Hughes said that also illustrated the vast differences between the two neighbors.
“That’s a celebration of freedom itself; in a place where there is freedom, there is also free speech, and the right for people to disagree … unlike the citizens of North Korea, who do not have that right,” she said.
Before he and Mr. Kim were to speak at Dorasan, about 800 people, including veterans in military uniform, marched with banners carrying pro-U.S. slogans or pictures of the North Korean leader calling him “the axis of evil.”
“If you leave Korea today, the communists will be here tomorrow,” said one banner paying tribute to the U.S. force stationed in South Korea under a mutual defense pact made after the Korean War.