Bush, S. Korean President Suggest More Patience With Kim Jong Il

President Lee Myung-bak and President Bush were united yesterday at Camp David in their position that North Korea should be given time to cooperate.
President Lee Myung-bak and President Bush were united yesterday at Camp David in their position that North Korea should be given time to cooperate. (By Lawrence Jackson -- Associated Press)
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 20, 2008

President Bush and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak urged patience yesterday in nuclear talks with North Korea, arguing that recent concessions proposed by the United States could lead to tangible progress in stalled negotiations with Pyongyang.

Bush and Lee, appearing at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David, sought to tamp down criticism from many of Bush's fellow Republicans, who say the United States is yielding too much ground in six-nation negotiations with the North Korean government.

"Why don't we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether this is a good deal or a bad deal?" Bush said.

Lee said talks with North Korea require "persistent patience."

"It's difficult to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs, but it is not impossible," Lee said.

The remarks followed two days of meetings between U.S. and South Korean officials and a first-ever stay at Camp David by a South Korean president. Lee, formerly chief executive of Hyundai Group and mayor of Seoul, took office less than two months ago and has vowed to pursue closer ties with the United States after years of rocky relations.

The two countries reached key agreements last week to lower restrictions on U.S. beef imports to South Korea and possibly allow South Korean citizens to travel to the United States without visas. Lee also disclosed plans to establish liaison offices in Seoul and Pyongyang after nearly 60 years of conflict.

But those issues were largely overshadowed yesterday by Lee's and Bush's attempts to mollify critics of the stalled nuclear talks. The Bush administration, which early on labeled Pyongyang as part of its "axis of evil," has recently been criticized by conservatives for its approach to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Under a new U.S. proposal, North Korea would "acknowledge" U.S. concerns and evidence about its apparent efforts to enrich uranium and its suspected nuclear trading with Syria, rather than provide its dossier on such activities. North Korea would also have to finish disabling its main nuclear facility and provide a full accounting of its stockpile of plutonium, U.S. and Asian officials have said.

In return, the move would pave the way for removing North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and could exempt it from the Trading With the Enemy Act. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested last week that the United States could lift the sanctions even before Pyongyang's assertions are verified.

Bush defended his administration's steps in his remarks yesterday, emphasizing that verification will still take place and that "I'm not going to accept a deal that doesn't advance the interests of the region."

"The burden of proof is there," Bush said. "We and our partners will take a look at North Korea's full declaration to determine whether or not the activities they promised they could do could be verified. And then we'll make a judgment of our own."

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