- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

BALI, Indonesia — President Bush said yesterday that a U.S.-Chinese alliance to deal with North Korea’s nuclear threat and efforts by three other Asian countries are sending a strong message to the nation’s dictator.

Mr. Bush, who this week offered security assurances to Pyongyang in return for a commitment to disarm, said China’s role in the coalition has unified the region in applying pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

“China is a major presence in the neighborhood,” the president said in response to a question from The Washington Times aboard Air Force One en route to Australia. “The fact that they’re willing to take the same message to the North Koreans that the United States is taking to the North Koreans, along with three other nations, is a powerful statement to Kim Jong-il that it’s in his national interest that he abandon his nuclear-weapons ambition.”

Mr. Bush began his day in Singapore, then flew to the Indonesian resort island of Bali amid heavy security that included U.S. warships and about 5,000 armed troops. There, he stood a few miles from the site of a deadly terrorist bombing last year and praised President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

“President Megawati has confronted this evil directly. She was one of the first leaders to stand with me after September 11th,” he said.

Trying to counter anti-American lessons in many Indonesian schools, the Associated Press reported that the president said he would ask Congress for $157 million in education grants for Mrs. Megawati’s government. Like her American counterpart, Mrs. Megawati faces an election next year, and she has tried to appear close to Mr. Bush while balancing her citizens’ suspicions of the United States.

“We do not always share common perspective,” Mrs. Megawati said at a seaside news conference under a thatched-roof platform, according to the AP.

Mr. Bush also met with leading Muslim clerics, who criticized him for supporting Israel over Palestinians and for the war in Iraq. But the president said he explained his views.

“They said the United States’ policy is tilted toward Israel, and I said our policy is tilted toward peace,” he said.

At the tail end of a six-nation Asian-Australian tour, Mr. Bush said his meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun have helped move the North Korean threat from a purely U.S. issue to a regional problem.

“Kim Jong-il is used to being able to deal bilaterally with the United States,” Mr. Bush said in a conference room aboard his presidential jet. “But the change of policy now is, is that he must deal with other nations, most notably China.”

“What’s changed is, we’ve got five countries involved. And the neighborhood is now speaking. … And now he’s got his big neighbor to the — right on the border, he’s got his neighbor to the south, he’s got Japan, he’s got another neighbor, Russia, all saying the same thing. It’s a different dynamic,” Mr. Bush said.

The president said his administration is willing to deal with North Korea as part of a multilateral effort to defuse the nuclear standoff that began last year, but will not enter into a formal nonaggression pact with the communist country.

“What we have now said is that in return for dismantling the programs, we’re all willing to sign some kind of document — not a treaty — but a piece of paper that says, ‘We won’t attack you,’” Mr. Bush said. “North Korea must hear that in return for the dismantling of their program — in a verifiable way, by the way; I mean, we’re going to want to know — that now five nations are willing to say something about his security.”

The new U.S. strategy on North Korea follows a move to stifle those who have complained about American unilateralism in Iraq. The Bush administration earlier this year rejected urging by Capitol Hill Democrats to singlehandedly defuse tensions in the West African nation of Liberia, and more recently has rejected calls for more U.S. involvement in Iran. Iran is developing a civilian nuclear program that critics suspect is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.

Since the U.S.-led war in Iraq, there has been swift movement on the two other nations Mr. Bush had dubbed as being part of an “axis of evil.” Although North Korea has dismissed the president’s offer of written security guarantees as “laughable,” the nation is coming under heavy pressure by neighbors. And Iran, which had refused any intervention or investigation of its nuclear program, has now acceded to demands that it permit nuclear inspectors access to all suspect facilities.

European leaders have taken a front role on Iran.

“Our European counterparts … are influential, more so than we, in Iran,” Mr. Bush said. “We’ve got a sanctions policy with Iran; they don’t. And there’s influence. This is an effective approach.”

On Monday, Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and allow inspectors unrestricted access.

The president then headed to Australia, where he addressed a joint session of Parliament in Canberra early today. Mr. Hu, China’s leader, will also speak to Australian lawmakers, in a speech tomorrow. For his part, Mr. Bush heads to Hawaii later today, then returns home tomorrow.

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