U.S. efforts to lead multilateral coalitions against Iraq and North Korea flagged today, as administration officials seemed increasingly resigned to the possibility of abandoning U.N. negotiations over Iraq, and Asian leaders meeting here with President Bush declined an offer to take a harsh stand against Pyongyang.
A trilateral statement released after Bush met here with President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan declared that North Korea's recently revealed nuclear weapons program was "a violation" of several agreements, and called for it to be dismantled.
But the statement did not include the condemnation of North Korea that senior Bush administration officials had said they were seeking. Instead, it said both Seoul and Tokyo would continue ongoing normalization talks with Pyongyang, during which they would raise the nuclear issue and warn that continuation of the nuclear program would jeopardize further improvement in relations.
Bush, who arrived here this morning to attend the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, received much the same equivocal response when he hosted Chinese President Jiang Zemin at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., yesterday.
On Iraq, White House officials including Bush began to express clear frustration with the lack of results after six weeks of U.N. negotiations. "As I have said in speech after speech after speech," Bush said this morning after a meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox, "if the U.N. won't act, if Saddam Hussein won't disarm, we will lead a coalition to disarm him."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who said last week he was "optimistic" the U.N. Security Council was close to agreement on a tough, U.S.-proposed resolution on Iraq, said today, "I don't want to say that we're near a solution because it may evade us."
France and Russia have continued to reject the U.S. proposal as giving Washington too much leeway to declare Baghdad had failed to cooperate with inspections of its weapons of mass destruction programs and to launch a military attack. Paris and Moscow have now said they may put their own resolutions on the table, calling for slightly less intrusive inspections and insisting on further council consultations to determine a course of action if Iraq balks.
Powell, who traveled here with Bush, said the coming week would be key in U.N. deliberations. "We have reached the point where we have to make a few fundamental decisions -- and go forward," he said. "We can't continue to have a debate that never ends."
Powell said he had spoken by telephone this morning with the French, Russian and British foreign ministers, and met here briefly with his Chinese counterpart. Of those governments, all of which have the power to veto council resolutions, only Britain has sided with the United States.
Bush made little headway this morning with Mexico, which currently holds one of the 10 rotating council seats. Speaking in Spanish, Fox told reporters that Mexico had "listened to President Bush's proposal, and we are listening to others. We want a strong resolution that will quickly activate new inspections and that ensures Iraqi compliance." But Mexico, he said, wanted a resolution that was "acceptable to all" council members.
Bush has little patience with ceremony and has always kept his visits to international gatherings as brief as possible. With other leaders not rushing to embrace his plans, he did not conceal his testiness today. The only time he spoke to reporters was during a photo session with Fox, and he glowered during Fox's windup and looked annoyed at the unruliness of the camera crews. The last straw was when a cell phone went off, which infuriates Bush, even when the violator is a member of his staff. In a breach of protocol, Bush cut off the translator before Fox's answers could be rendered in English, and the White House transcript ignored Fox's words, saying simply, "Answered in Spanish." In addition to his comments about the U.N. resolution, Fox criticized U.S. restrictions on Mexican agricultural imports as well as subsidies to U.S. farmers.
Even Powell showed little enthusiasm. "We all agree that it is time to bring the remaining issues to a head for resolution, if possible," he said. "If resolution is not possible, then let's come to that realization and move forward."
A tough line, along with the threat of unilateral military action, has been part of the administration's U.N. negotiating strategy since Bush first announced last month that he would seek international support on Iraq.
Although some administration officials said that today's expressions of pessimism were part of that strategy, many expressed little hope it would succeed.
"No one has ruled out the possibility that the U.N. will fail," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said aboard Air Force One this morning as Bush traveled to Mexico from Texas. The administration has said repeatedly that "many" countries would join it in attacking Iraq without a U.N. mandate, and Fleischer said it would be "not be very hard at all" to assemble a coalition. So far, only Britain and Bulgaria have publicly said they would participate.
The administration has been far less belligerent on the subject of heavily armed North Korea. But senior officials made clear after today's talks that the United States remained hopeful its friends and allies in the region -- all of which have urged dialogue rather than talk of reprisals -- will take a more muscular stance with Pyongyang than they have been willing to publicly endorse.
Speaking aboard Bush's plane this morning, a senior administration official who declined to be named said, "What we're hoping for is a strong statement that not only condemns but calls for the [nuclear] program to be dismantled." North Korea acknowledged the existence of a secret uranium enrichment and weapons program early this month after a visiting State Department official confronted Pyongyang officials with intelligence evidence of its existence.
Officials traveling with Bush here were noncommittal today about plans to isolate North Korea. Powell said the statement issued this afternoon by Bush, Kim and Koizumi "reflects the current thinking not only, frankly, among the three, but I would say that if you talk to some of the others, such as the Chinese and the Russians, this is close to what they would also sign up to."
"There are lots of tools that are available to us," Powell said. "We want to make sure that we move deliberately, we move with patience, that we do not create a crisis in the region, but that we move with determination."
The statement called "full compliance with all [Pyongyang's] international commitments" on nuclear weapons. It said that the three agreed that normalization talks with Japan, scheduled to start Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as well as the ongoing North-South Korea dialogue "can serve as important channels to call upon the North to respond quickly and convincingly" to demands for denuclearization.
The economic concerns of APEC, which was established in 1989 to coordinate the increasingly interdependent economic policies of countries bordering both sides of the Pacific Ocean, have been overshadowed for the second consecutive year by national security worries.
The U.S. envoy to APEC, Lawrence Greenwood, told delegates here yesterday that global economic progress and security are closely intertwined. "We must achieve both, or we have not addressed the challenge of terrorism," he said.
Last year's meeting in Shanghai took place just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This year's meeting follows the recent terrorist bombing in Bali in which 183 people were killed. Across the conference site spread across miles of luxury, seaside tourist hotels on this farthest-south tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, televisions were tuned to live coverage of the hostage crisis in Moscow.