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Bush Talks with Regional Allies About N. Korea Standoff - 2003-04-29

President Bush spoke by telephone Tuesday with the leaders of South Korea and Japan about the problem of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. A peaceful resolution of the standoff requires that kind of consultation and coordination, according to members of a Japanese defense delegation visiting Washington.

In his conversations with South Korean President Rho Moo-hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, President Bush repeated his desire to work peacefully for the irreversible and verifiable end of North Korea's nuclear program.

White House spokesman Ari Fleisher says the president pledged to include South Korea and Japan fully in that effort. And Mr. Fleischer called last week's talks in Beijing among the United States, North Korea and China part of a positive diplomatic approach.

"The approach that the president always believed was the right approach, which was the diplomatic approach whose diplomacy will be enhanced because it's multilateral, has indeed been enhanced, because as he discussed with Japan and South Korea today, we see it the same way, and China sees it very much the same way as well," Mr. Fleischer said.

While the Bush administration continues to press for a diplomatic solution, it has not ruled out the possibility of using military action to force North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

The leader of a Japanese delegation currently visiting Washington, Fukushiro Nukaga, says all the countries of the region want the Korean peninsula to be free of nuclear weapons. And Mr. Nukaga, a member of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, says the United States, Japan and South Korea should develop a unified position on how to handle North Korea and coordinate action with China and Russia. Mr. Nukaga spoke at a conference at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

"I do think that the primary route that we need to take is the diplomatic route to convince North Korea not to possess or develop nuclear weapons," he said. "But how to maintain a good balance of the dialogue and the deterence - it's a very difficult balance to strike and I think we need to think very carefully about that."

Another member of the Japanese delegation, Seiji Maehara, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, says his party did not agree with the Japanese government in supporting the U.S. military action in Iraq. In the case of North Korea, Mr. Maehara said it is even more important to work for a peaceful resolution.

"One thing that is diffferent about North Korea than Iraq is that the North Korean capability of retaliation is very strong, including missile capability, and conventional weapons capability," he said. "If we try to wage a similar war [against] North Korea, like the one we waged against Iraq, it would not only cause tremendous damage to Japan and South Korea, both of which are United States' important allies in Asia, but also the U.S. forces in [South] Korea and U.S. forces in Japan will suffer great damage also."

The Japanese delegation is in Washington for consultations on the U.S.-Japan defense alliance. The group is meeting with officials at the State Department and Defense Department as well as Asia defense specialists to review the status of the security alliance in light of new threats posed by international terrorism and countries like North Korea that have weapons of mass destruction.