- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

BANGKOK — President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday urged North Korea to accept written security guarantees in exchange for the communist nation’s abandonment of its nuclear-weapons program.

The two leaders called for the resumption of multilateral talks, with Mr. Bush saying the “U.S. has no intention of invading North Korea” but warning it “will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea and that they are committed to a peaceful resolution of the issue.”

But just hours after the leaders spoke, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il backed up his increasingly aggressive rhetoric with action, firing a short-range, surface-to-ship missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead into waters off the country’s northeastern region.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff downplayed the launch, saying the move was a “routine” part of Pyongyang’s annual military exercise. Yet the timing of the North Korean leader’s action seemed intended to distract attention from an annual Asian economic meeting in Bangkok, attended by all six nations participating in the multilateral talks.

Still, Mr. Bush and Mr. Roh released a joint statement calling for a new round of talks with Pyongyang “at an early date” and urging Mr. Kim to avoid any action that could “exacerbate the situation.”

Meeting with Mr. Roh on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering, Mr. Bush said he was “making good progress on peacefully resolving” the standoff. And Mr. Roh praised the president for his efforts to resolve the issue.

“I would like to thank United States for helping us to achieve this important milestone. And I am thankful for Mr. Bush for making more efforts to continue to resume the six-party talks in the near future,” he said.

The parties — the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan — held a first round of talks in August, but that ended with just an agreement to continue talking. No date has been set for a second round, though the White House said a time frame could be middle to late November.

But North Korea has insisted it deal only with the United States and has demanded a nonaggression pact with Washington before curtailing its nuclear ambitions.

On Sunday, Mr. Bush softened his stance on North Korea, offering to exchange the informal security guarantees if Mr. Kim ends the national nuclear program, restarted last year.

“I’ve said as plainly as I can say that we have no intention of invading North Korea,” Mr. Bush said then. “And I’ve also said as plainly as I can that we expect North Korea to get rid of her nuclear-weapons ambitions.”

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters yesterday it would “take some time” to finalize the security agreement, adding, “We’ve gotten no feedback from North Korea.”

“If the North Koreans are in fact serious about trying to move this process forward, if they are in fact serious about having security concerns,” then they will take the proposal seriously, she said.

“The key here is that anything having to do with security guarantees obviously also has to do with performance by the North Koreans and has to do with North Korea being willing, able and verifiably capable of carrying out the obligations that they undertake,” Miss Rice said.

Mr. Bush has met with the leaders of China and Japan on his six-day Asian trip, and yesterday Japan expressed dissatisfaction at the North Korean missile launch. “We do not take this as a positive attitude on the part of North Korea,” said a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Bangkok.

After Mr. Bush offered the compromise Sunday, North Korea said the APEC summit is not the place to discuss the nuclear standoff because it “is an issue to be resolved between us and the United States.”

Since announcing it had resumed its nuclear-weapons program last year, North Korea has threatened to prove it possesses a “nuclear deterrent.”

As Secretary of State Colin L. Powell consults his counterparts from China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, Miss Rice said the work is just beginning. “We want to discuss this with our partners. We are not going to go in all guns blazing and say, ‘Take it or leave it, this is it,’” she said.

“We have not come to a conclusion on what the nature of the way forward to address North Korean security concerns is. That’s part of the consultation process,” Miss Rice said.

Mr. Powell said the “assurances” will be fleshed out “in the next days and weeks with our partners in the six-party framework.”

“We are not threatening them,” he said, reiterating the U.S. commitment to finding a diplomatic solution to the problem.

“We will work with interested parties in order to achieve a complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program,” Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Bush leaves today for Singapore and tomorrow for the resort island of Bali. Indonesia’s security minister, Susilo Yudhoyono, yesterday warned of more terrorist attacks in Indonesia.

Just more than a year since terrorists killed more than 200 people in a bomb attack in Bali — many from Australia, Mr. Bush’s last foreign stop on his tour — Mr. Susilo said “the threat of terrorist attacks is imminent.”

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