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Bush Maintains Tough N. Korea Stance, Door Open for Dialogue - 2002-02-15

A senior U.S. official says the Bush administration has no plans to step back from its labeling of North Korea as a member of the "axis of evil" countries developing weapons of mass destruction.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice made the comment Friday as Mr. Bush prepared for a trip to Asia that begins in South Korea, where the talks will likely focus on relations with North Korea.

In an interview with journalists, Condoleezza Rice said the administration will continue to speak what it sees as the truth about North Korea, while leaving open the possibility of dialogue.

Referring to U.S. concerns about suspected North Korean pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, she said Pyongyang is "stocking a lot of the world right now" with ballistic missiles.

As she spoke in Washington, South Korea's capital, Seoul, experienced the first wave of what are expected to be widespread protests. Student demonstrators burned U.S. flags, and accused Mr. Bush of heightening tensions on the Korean peninsula with his "axis of evil" remarks.

North Korea's media stepped up rhetorical attacks on Mr. Bush with one North Korean television commentary accusing him of making "an open declaration of war" against North Korea.

In Moscow, a Russian official who recently visited Pyongyang described North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as "aggrieved" by Mr. Bush's remarks. The official, Konstantin Pulikovsky, said he met three times with Kim Jong-Il.

As President Bush prepared to leave Washington, another administration official was offering still more clarification of U.S.-Korean policy.

In testimony to Congress, James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asia affairs, said Washington remains committed to President Kim Dae-Jung's "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with Pyongyang. But he added that Pyongyang must respond or face continuing isolation. In Mr. Kelly's words: "Sunshine cannot cultivate a dry field."

Analysts say Mr. Bush's Korean stop will perhaps be the most difficult stop of his Asian tour. They say the president will have multiple burdens: to personally clarify his "axis of evil" remarks, provide reassurances that war will, if possible, be avoided, and yet maintain his harder stance toward the North.

Kyongsoo Lho, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a professor of international relations at Seoul National University, said, "It seems to me what Washington is saying to Pyongyang is that 'the game is over.' We're not going to pay for you to come to the negotiation table. Come to the table prepared to negotiate and if you negotiate substantial issues in a credible fashion that aid will be given, but the previous pattern of providing aid just to get them to the table is no longer going to be the way Washington deals with Pyongyang," he said.

Mr. Lho believes Mr. Bush's axis of evil remark was part of a strategy intended to send a message to North Korea. He added, however, that he hopes the strategy does not cause North Korea to pull back from either engagement with Seoul or dialogue with Washington.

However, Professor Lho says there is unlikely to be much progress until there is a change of regime in Pyongyang. "I think Kim Jong-Il, like his father, has a vision of a unified Korea that is fundamentally diametrically opposed to the kind of life we have in South Korea. He still envisions a very socialist, Kim Il-Sungist, rigorously centrally controlled Korean peninsula under his control and will still look for opportunities to leverage whatever military strength he has into a bargaining position or should the day ever come where America tires of commitment to the Korean peninsula removes itself, what the old Soviet terminology used to call the correlation of forces," Professor Lho said.

In an editorial Friday looking ahead to the Bush visit to Seoul, the South Korean newspaper The Herald said it is up to North Korea to make the first move to restart the Korean peace process. But it also urged Mr. Bush and President Kim Dae-Jung to find ways to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.