Thursday, July 6, 2006

2:16 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush said today it is hard to read North Korea’s motives in firing a missile with the potential to hit the United States or Canada, but said the U.S. cannot afford to misjudge the situation.

“I think we’ve got to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush stressed that the United States is seeking a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff with North Korea. He cautioned that diplomacy will take time.

The president said he was pleased that leaders of China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, in telephone calls during the past few days, agreed that the reclusive communist regime should not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.

“My message was that we want to solve this problem diplomatically, and the best way to solve this problem diplomatically is for all of us to be working in concert,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush said the nations’ message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was clear: “We expect you to adhere to international norms. We expect you to keep your word.”

Asked for an assessment of the reclusive North Korean leader, who is variously described as quirky, eccentric or even unbalanced, Mr. Bush struck a thoughtful pose.

“It’s hard for me to tell you what’s on his mind. He lives in a very closed society,” marked by concentration camps and starving people, Mr. Bush said.

While agreeing that North Korea’s missile tests were a provocative act, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who appeared with Mr. Bush at the news conference, said Canada was not ready to reopen discussions about joining the U.S. missile shield. The shield involves basing missiles capable of taking out incoming missiles launched by terrorists or rogue states - although the system isn’t designed to foil a mass attack by a major power.

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