SANTIAGO, Chile — President Bush said yesterday that the leaders of China, Japan, South Korea and Russia are united in their determination to get North Korea and Iran to abandon their nuclear-weapons programs.
Speaking to a gathering of international business executives at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Mr. Bush said “the will is strong” among members of the so-called Group of Six that are applying intense diplomatic pressure on North Korea.
“The effort is united, and the message is clear: ‘Mr. Kim Jong-il, get rid of your nuclear-weapons program,’ ” Mr. Bush said.
The president delivered his speech after a flurry of meetings yesterday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, Canadian Prime Minster Paul Martin and newly elected Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the first day of the APEC summit.
Finding a way to get the six-party talks restarted with North Korea was the main topic of most of those meetings. The reclusive Stalinist dictatorship had tried to stall negotiations on its nuclear program, a senior Bush administration official said, hoping a different president would deal with it one on one.
Mr. Bush’s re-election this month ensures that that won’t happen, and the other countries putting pressure on North Korea are glad for it, the official said.
“In most of these meetings, either explicitly or sort of as subtext, that theme came out,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “There was a sense from the president’s counterparts that the election result means that the North Korean strategy to run out the clock doesn’t work anymore and that they had to get serious.”
Mr. Hu said after his meeting with Mr. Bush that both men “expressed the hope that the issue can be solved peacefully through dialogue.”
The senior Bush administration official said that China is among the most enthusiastic about stopping North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. Indeed, it is the only country that has continued a dialogue with North Korea since it broke off talks.
“The Chinese have had some senior-level visits to Pyongyang in recent weeks and have reported that the leadership in Pyongyang says that it still is prepared to participate in the six-party talks,” the official said. “When or how or who, they did not say.”
The official also said Mr. Bush and most of the Pacific Rim leaders didn’t talk in detail about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons plans, “but in all the meetings, there was a general agreement that all programs, all nuclear programs, had to be eliminated.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, discussed the issue at length with Mr. Bush over lunch. Russia has been aiding Iran’s nuclear-energy program under promises that it is for only peaceful purposes. But a recent investigation found that Iran is trying to quickly use the program to enrich weapons-grade nuclear material before it is forced to stop by the United Nations.
“President Putin made the point that [further] nuclear cooperation will not go forward without Iran signing the additional protocol for the International Atomic Energy Agency and also the protocol on the return of spent fuel,” the official said. “But they both agree that they need to maintain the pressure on Iran and that, clearly, both agree that a nuclear Iran is not in our interests. We need to work to prevent that from happening.”
Mr. Bush also indicated that he wants to take the momentum from this summit to enlist more of the world to engage more actively in the war on terror. “Every nation represented here has a stake in this fight,” the president said. “Not just the West or the wealthy, but all of us. And all of us must do all we can to defeat the murderers.”
Mr. Bush said that no matter how small or poor a country is, it must assist in the war on terror any way it can. “APEC nations are playing a crucial role in the war on terror, for which we are very grateful,” he said. “We’ll continue to work with nations that have the will to fight terror, but need help in developing the means.”
The president tied that theme to his larger strategy of exporting and supporting democracy to create a more peaceful world, hinting that helping the United States to rebuild a free Iraq and Afghanistan is a crucial first step.
“The spread of liberty is our most powerful weapon in the fight against hatred and terror,” he said. “Freedom has taken place in parts of the world where people never dreamt freedom is possible. And as a result, the world is better for it.”
Though this is ostensibly an economic summit, there has been little talk of commerce so far. Mr. Bush did, however, tell Mr. Koizumi, whom the president said he admires greatly for his staunch support for the war in Iraq, that he is “committed to a strong dollar” and reducing the federal budget deficit.
“I completely agree with the view of the president that a strong dollar has good impact on the U.S. economy and is also important for the world economy,” Mr. Koizumi said. “And I was also gratified to know that President Bush has a strong intent for further strengthening the framework of cooperation, international cooperation, to cope with the issue of Iraq.”
Today, Mr. Bush meets with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and also attends a second two-hour “retreat” with the entire 21-nation coalition.
He jets to Colombia tomorrow to discuss links between drug trafficking and terrorism with President Alvaro Uribe.