HANOI — President Bush failed to win South Korea’s support today for an inspection plan aimed at intercepting ships suspected of carrying supplies for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
During talks before the opening of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Mr. Bush tried to persuade South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to fully implement sanctions imposed on North Korea after it tested a nuclear device on Oct. 9.
Mr. Roh said that his country “is not taking part in the full scope” of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which calls for the stopping of suspect ships headed for North Korea. However, he said South Korea supports the “principles and goals of the PSI,” and will cooperate in preventing the transfer of material for weapons of mass destruction.
South Korea has only been an observer to the program, fearing its direct participation could lead to armed clashes with its neighbor.
Mr. Bush downplayed the disagreement, saying he appreciates South Korea’s help in solving the nuclear standoff with North Korea.
“I appreciate the cooperation we’re receiving from South Korea for the Proliferation Security Initiative,” he said. “Our desire is to solve the North Korean issue peacefully.”
White House press secretary Tony Snow acknowledged that Mr. Roh faced political pressure not to anger North Korea.
Mr. Bush “understands political constraints,” Mr. Snow said.
Yesterday, after arriving in Hanoi, the president urged patience regarding the war in Iraq, saying the Vietnam War taught the United States inspecting there will be no “instant success.”
“We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while,” Mr. Bush said after meeting with Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, an ally in the Iraq war.
Rep. John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has called for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, was quick to jump on Mr. Bush’s “instant success” remark.
“The president seems to be suggesting that the American people don’t have patience and that they’re looking for ‘instant success’ in Iraq,” Mr. Murtha said. “We’re going into our fourth year of a failed strategy. That doesn’t fit anyone’s definition of ‘instant.’ ”
After suffering a blow last week when Republicans lost control of the House and Senate, the president urged critics to hold fast to the job at hand, expressing confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“We’ll succeed unless we quit. The Maliki government is going to make it unless the coalition leaves before they have a chance to make it. And that’s why I assured the prime minister we’ll get the job done,” he said.
But Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat who was elected this week as majority whip for the next Congress, dismissed Mr. Bush’s calls for patience.
“America has been patient. Our troops have been heroic,” Mr. Durbin said. “I think we ought to show a little impatience when it comes to the Iraqis and their unwillingness to respond to the need to change.”
In meetings with top Vietnamese officials, including President Nguyen Minh Triet, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the country’s most powerful leader, Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh, Mr. Bush said the United States has moved past its grievances with Vietnam.
“For decades, we have been torn apart by war. And today, the Vietnamese people are at peace and seeing the benefits of reform,” the president said in a dinner toast to his hosts.
“We are indeed very happy to see the expansion of relations between our two countries,” Mr. Triet said at a state dinner for Mr. Bush.
Vietnam, one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, is preparing to join the World Trade Organization, a big move for the communist nation. But an effort by House Republicans to grant permanent normal trade status to Vietnam failed on Monday. Mr. Bush, however, expressed optimism that a bill granting the status will pass soon. “I believe it’s going to happen,” he told Vietnamese leaders.
The president spent yesterday meeting with Vietnamese officials, discussing HIV/AIDS, avian flu, trade and cooperation on information about more than 1,300 U.S. military personnel still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. Today, he will visit the U.S. military’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command before the APEC meetings get under way.
Mr. Bush was greeted warmly in Vietnam, and thousands lined the streets on his motorcade route from the airport to Hanoi. He was welcomed at the presidential palace by soldiers standing at attention and bands playing the U.S. and Vietnamese national anthems.
But reminders of the Vietnam War were everywhere: Mr. Bush told reporters he found it poignant driving by the Hanoi lake into which former POW and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a potential presidential candidate in 2008, parachuted when his fighter jet was shot down during the war.
“He suffered a lot as a result of his imprisonment, and yet we passed the place where he was literally saved, in one way, by the people pulling him out,” Mr. Bush said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.