Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, meeting with President Bush on Tuesday before the start of the Group of Eight summit, provided a cautiously upbeat assessment of his recent discussion with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, suggesting North Korea's resolve to keep its nuclear weapons programs may be weakening, U.S. and Japanese officials said.
Koizumi said he stressed to Kim the economic benefits that would be available to North Korea if it gave up its weapons, and told Bush he detected that this message was beginning to get through to the mercurial North Korean. He suggested that in advance of the next round of multination talks on North Korea, Bush stress the advantages that would flow to Pyongyang if it dismantled its weapons. Bush has repeatedly said he does not want to reward North Korea.
Buoyed by the approval of a new Iraq resolution by the U.N. Security Council, Bush also held bilateral sessions with three leaders of countries critical of the Iraq war -- Russia, Germany and Canada -- as he prepared for the start of the high-level economic and political summit at Sea Island, off the Georgia coast. One senior official described the meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as the "warmest meeting" the two leaders have had since before the Iraq war.
All day, planes carrying the leaders landed at nearby Hunter Army Airfield, where they were whisked under tight security to the exclusive resort.
The summit, which ends Thursday, began Tuesday night with an informal dinner hosted by Bush. The leaders of Britain, Italy and France are also attending.
Reporters are being kept nearly 100 miles away in Savannah, in a massive media center on its own island. U.S. and foreign officials either shuttle back and forth to brief the media, or are piped in via teleconference from the resort. The White House, eager to portray Bush as a leader comfortable on the world stage, scheduled a series of nonstop briefings and interviews with officials to tout agreements on stemming proliferation of nuclear weapons, expanding global peacekeeping efforts, combating diseases such as polio and AIDS, and ending poverty through private-sector initiatives.
Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, in an interview, said the G-8 would issue an "action plan" on nonproliferation, which he expected would include agreeing to expand a program for the retraining of former Soviet nuclear scientists to include other nations that have given up their weapons such as Iraq and Libya.
Moreover, he said, the leaders appear poised to agree to a one-year suspension of new nuclear reprocessing deals with other nations as they work out an agreement on how to prevent additional countries from obtaining uranium enrichment reprocessing technology. Such technology can form the basis for weapons programs.
Bolton said there are few of these deals in a given year but "it's a very significant thing for the leaders to say we're going to set a target for ourselves for one year and in the meantime not launch any new initiatives."
During a lunch with Bush, Koizumi reported that Kim said he did not want nuclear weapons, a senior administration official said, adding that Koizumi said Kim did not include the usual language that North Korea was forced to have such weapons because of the administration's "hostile policy."
A senior Japanese official provided a slightly different version. He said Koizumi reported that Kim said his goal is the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula but he feels uneasy about the administration's attitude.
When Koizumi pressed the case that giving up weapons would be beneficial, Kim replied that "he sees the point but he feels unease about U.S intentions and the use of threatening words by the U.S., as North Korea and Kim Jong Il interprets them," the Japanese official said. Kim added that "in order to solve this lack of communication, he wants to have a direct dialogue with the United States," the official said.
Both the U.S. and the Japanese officials spoke about the Koizumi-Bush session under condition of anonymity at the insistence of their respective governments. Another U.S. official, also speaking under the same conditions, was dubious about any shift in North Korean attitudes, saying the country is a "very successful propagandist."
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry, has attacked Bush for refusing to hold direct talks with the North Koreans, except on the sidelines of multilateral talks. Kerry has pledged to immediately begin bilateral negotiations, a stance that some experts believe reduces the incentive for North Korea to strike any deal before the presidential election in November.
The U.S. official said Koizumi agreed with Bush that "we'd throw away all the leverage we have on them" if bilateral discussions were held. But the Japanese official said "the prime minister believes the United States actually judges whether it is a good idea to have bilateral discussions with North Korea. On this specific point Prime Minister Koizumi does not have any advice."