- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO — South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun suggested yesterday he had found a kindred spirit in President Bush, a day after their White House summit sketched over differences in how to thwart North Korea’s nuclear quest.

Mr. Roh told Korean reporters as he flew from Washington to the final stop of his U.S. tour in San Francisco that he was delighted with the talks, which took place at a crucial time in the North Korea nuclear crisis.

The U.S. leader “is self-confident and frank. He likes plain talking. Like me, in a way. We had chemistry,” said Mr. Roh as he wrapped up his first visit to the United States.

Mr. Bush described his Korean counterpart as “an easy man to talk to” after their 30-minute meeting, which was followed by dinner at the White House.

Both men stressed their countries were united on the fundamentals of the North Korea question, despite clear differences of approach.

But in their joint news appearance in the White House Rose Garden late Wednesday, the two men did not take questions, fanning suggestions that their carefully choreographed meeting intentionally papered over gaps on how to deal with Pyongyang.

“It’s the best possible outcome of the summit — the two leaders have established a fundamental relationship based on trust,” Mr. Roh’s national security adviser, Ra Jong-yil, said.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Thomas Hubbard said at a reception at a San Francisco hotel in honor of Mr. Roh that the U.S. leader was “happy and satisfied, too.”

In a television interview yesterday, however, Mr. Roh signaled that large differences remained between the United States and South Korea on how to handle the North.

Mr. Roh was asked whether he supported the idea of offering incentives for an end to North Korean nuclear programs — an option the United States calls submission to “blackmail.”

“When Korea, China, Japan and the United States offer what North Korea wants, maybe North Korea’s attitude may chance in the future,” Mr. Roh said on the PBS “Newshour” program.

“That is if the North Korea receives security guarantees and if it receives an opportunity to reform and open up its economy, then there is a high likelihood that it will be willing to renounce its nuclear program.”

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday before the two presidents met that the administration was opposed to such an approach.

“Our policy toward North Korea can really be summed up as follows: No one should be willing to give into the kind of blackmail that the North Koreans have been practicing on the world for a number of years now, especially not the United States.”

Mr. Bush moved to assuage fears of a U.S. military response to the showdown with his “axis of evil” foe, but neither side said in detail how it proposed to thwart the communist state’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Roh insists that military force should not be an option in the standoff and told The Washington Times before his arrival in the United States that he would ask Mr. Bush to exempt North Korea from the U.S. military doctrine that calls for pre-emptive attacks on rogue states that are developing weapons of mass destruction.

But the White House, though preferring diplomacy, says all options remain on the table. Mr. Bush says no deals can be made with Pyongyang until it renounces the nuclear drive.

Mr. Roh began his visit to the United States on Monday with a tour of the New York Stock Exchange. He will return to Seoul today after meeting former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and visiting Intel Corp.

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