- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

President Bush, meeting yesterday with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in the Oval Office, said North Korea’s refusal to return to negotiations had “strengthened” the alliance of five countries trying to persuade the communist nation to abandon its nuclear program.

Mr. Bush, in his first meeting with the South Korean leader since North Korea conducted missile tests in July, said the stalled talks should help convince President Kim Jong-il that “there is a better way to improve the lives of his people than being isolated.”

“His refusal to come back to the six-party talks has really strengthened an alliance of five nations that are determined to solve this issue peacefully but recognize a threat posed by a country in the region armed with a nuclear weapon,” the president said.

Mr. Roh said his nation, along with the United States, China, Japan and Russia, should continue to press North Korea to resume talks.

“What is important to remember is that the fact that we are consulting closely on the North Korean nuclear issue and we are consulting on ways to restart the six-party process, and I believe this is the important point,” he said through a translator.

Still, neither leader offered specific measures to prompt North Korea to return to the bargaining table.

The on-again, off-again talks stalled last November, when North Korea began a boycott, in part because Pyongyang wants the United States to end financial restrictions prompted by accusations that the nation counterfeits U.S. money and trades in illegal drugs. Mr. Kim also wants to engage in bilateral talks with the United States, an idea Mr. Bush has rejected.

Although worldwide fears that the country would conduct nuclear tests have not yet been realized, North Korea, which nuclear specialists say has several atomic weapons, defied international warnings by test-launching seven missiles, including one that is capable of reaching the United States.

While the Bush administration advocates tougher U.N. sanctions against North Korea, Mr. Roh prefers to continue negotiations. After an hourlong meeting at the White House, Mr. Bush sounded a softer tone about the standoff, saying the United States is “determined to resolve this issue peacefully but recognizes a threat posed by a country in the region armed with a nuclear weapon.”

Mr. Roh said it is not yet “the appropriate time to think about the possibility of a failure of the six-party process.”

“There is a concern in Korea that the United States will take further sanctions against North Korea and whether this will jeopardize the chance of a successful six-party process, my answer is that we are working very hard on restarting the six-party talks,” he said.

Mr. Roh has criticized the Bush administration for seeking to isolate the already reclusive North Korean leader, saying in July that the North’s test-firing was more likely for political rather than military purposes.

But Mr. Roh also stood firm against North Korea. “My government has taken certain measures, and … we are, in fact, taking measures tantamount to sanctions after the North Korean missile launches,” he said.

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