Bush Fails to Persuade S. Korea on Sanctions

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 19, 2006

HANOI, Nov. 18 -- President Bush attended meetings Saturday aimed at turning up the pressure to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons but failed to convince South Korea that it should fully implement U.N. sanctions against its northern neighbor.

South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun told Bush that his country would not participate fully in a plan to intercept possible North Korean nuclear shipments, a step that South Korean officials fear could lead to increased tensions and possibly war.

After meeting with Bush before the start of a Pacific Rim economic summit here, Roh said South Korea generally supported the agreement, known as the Proliferation Security Initiative, but would not sign on to the U.S.-led effort. Still, Roh said, South Korea would work to prevent North Korea from exporting nuclear arms and related expertise.

"Although the Republic of Korea is not taking part in the full scope of the PSI, we support the principles and goals of the PSI and will fully cooperate in preventing WMD material transfer" in the region, Roh said, referring to weapons of mass destruction.

Bush, sitting next to Roh, smiled stiffly as his South Korean counterpart spoke to reporters. Bush then said: "Our mutual desire is to effectively enforce the will of the world" and persuade North Korea to disarm.

"I appreciate the cooperation we're receiving from South Korea" on the initiative, Bush said. "Our desire is to solve the North Korean issue peacefully."

Administration officials said later that internal political considerations in South Korea and its agreements with the North on the use of sea lanes off the Korean Peninsula prevent Roh from taking a tougher stand, but that the country was firmly committed to keeping North Korea from spreading nuclear weapons and related technology.

After the session with Roh, Bush had lunch with the new Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe. The meeting was the first between the president and Abe, whose predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, enjoyed a close relationship with Bush. In the session, the two men discussed North Korea and agreed to accelerate cooperation on ballistic missile defense for Japan.

Bush also discussed North Korea in a joint session with Roh and Abe. "I think there is a sense that while there is patience required, there was also a shared view that we must not let North Korea use the six-party talks as an instrument for delay," said national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, referring to talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test last month, has successfully test-fired missiles capable of reaching Japan. Japan and the United States began deploying U.S.-made anti-missile systems in Japan earlier this year.

Weeks after North Korea conducted the nuclear test, it agreed to resume talks with the five other countries on ending its nuclear weapons program. But the countries involved have doubts that North Korea actually intends to abandon its nuclear weapons.

Diplomats say they hope the talks will take place by the end of the year, but no date has been set. Meanwhile, Bush administration officials have said that North Korea needs to take concrete steps toward ending its nuclear program if the talks are to succeed.

"We're pleased that North Korea has indicated they want to come back to the six-party talks, but we've also said for some time that they cannot come back just to talk," Hadley said.

Bush is scheduled to discuss North Korea on Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The North Korea issue has dominated many of Bush's meetings with the leaders attending the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Bush has spent much of the rest of his visit to Vietnam -- the second by a U.S. president since the end of the Vietnam War -- attending official functions of the economic forum.

Bush paid a short visit to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which is working to account for soldiers missing from several conflicts, including 1,800 from the Vietnam War, which ended more than 30 years ago.

Officials from the command briefed Bush on their efforts as they showed him photos and recovered artifacts, including an old helmet and rusted rifles, and plaster replicas of human bones. Bush listened to the 15-minute briefing, then left without speaking publicly.

Aides say Bush wants to focus not on Vietnam's past but on its future. In public comments, Bush has praised the country's dramatic economic growth, which he plans to highlight Monday in a visit to the Vietnamese stock market in Ho Chi Minh City.

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