President Bush canceled plans Tuesday to visit Seoul next month amid protests over U.S. beef imports, and his administration made a key concession to North Korea by allowing it to exclude atomic bombs from a required disclosure of its nuclear activities.
Seoul, meanwhile, will allow the resumption of U.S. beef imports starting Thursday under new quarantine rules that will exclude meat from cattle older than 30 months, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s ruling party said Wednesday, according to Reuters.
Once the legal notice for the resumption is published on Thursday, U.S. beef that has been in frozen storage in South Korea for months could be inspected and then head to store shelves.
South Korean officials said the reworked pact would increase safety checks on U.S. beef, but hours after it was announced, a violent rally erupted in central Seoul with protesters smashing police buses blocking the way to the presidential Blue House.
Mr. Bush is scheduled to attend the annual summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading economies in Japan in early July. A stop in Seoul had been planned for months, but it was missing from Mr. Bush’s itinerary when it was announced Tuesday.
“We will certainly have another opportunity when we head into Asia in August” for the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters. “But this trip will just be solely for the G-8.”
Protests of Mr. Lee’s resumption of U.S. beef imports began last month because of fears of mad cow disease.
Washington insists that American beef is safe, and South Korean and U.S. trade negotiators agreed last weekend to limit imports to cattle younger than 30 months.
Thousands of South Koreans have continued their demonstrations, however, and Mr. Lee, whose popularity after his election in December has plummeted, said Tuesday that it was time for the protests to stop.
“Rallies that try to shake the system or challenge the government’s legitimacy as well as illegal and violent rallies must be clearly distinguished and dealt with accordingly,” he told a Cabinet meeting, according to a spokesman.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to stop in Seoul this weekend after a meeting of G-8 foreign ministers in Japan, the State Department said.
Miss Rice’s main mission will be to help conclude the second phase of a six-nation process aimed at ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons.
The Bush administration had demanded that the declaration of all of the North’s nuclear programs, which was due on Dec. 31 but is expected this week, include the amount of plutonium it had produced and the number of atomic bombs it had made.
However, chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said Tuesday that the weapons will not be part of the declaration, which will be confined to materials, facilities and programs.
“The weapons are to be determined at a subsequent phase,” he said in Beijing, according to a transcript released by the State Department. “The North Koreans have acknowledged that we have to deal with the weapons, but not on this phase.”
Even though Mr. Hill said that this “has always been the vision,” a U.S. official conceded in private that this was the first public acknowledgement of a new concession.
Mr. Hill is also assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific.
Earlier this year, the administration retreated from its demand that the declaration cover a suspected uranium-enrichment program, as well as suspected nuclear transfers to Syria and other proliferation activities.
Both plutonium and enriched uranium can be used to make atomic bombs.
The declaration, which could be handed to China as host of the six-party talks as soon as Thursday, is now expected to include Pyongyang’s plutonium program, but not the number of atomic bombs made from plutonium.
Uranium-enrichment and proliferation are to be addressed in a separate document, in which public disclosure is still in question.
The six countries involved in the talks are the United States, North Korea, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
After the North’s declaration is submitted, it plans to destroy the cooling tower of its main plutonium reactor at Yongbyon, which is being disabled under U.S. supervision.
The United States then is expected to remove North Korea from its blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.
That would complete the second phase of the process under an agreement reached last year.
During the first stage, Yongbyon was shut down. It is to be dismantled during the third and final phase. The North also is supposed to include verification of the declaration through site visits and interviews with key personnel, as well as hand over its plutonium.