U.S. President George W. Bush said Sunday the United States is willing to give North Korea security assurances in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons program, though he ruled out the non-aggression treaty that Pyongyang has been demanding. Mr. Bush discussed the issue in Bangkok Sunday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, whose government has sponsored multi-lateral talks on the issue.
The possibility of giving North Korea security assurances that go beyond the administration's verbal expressions of peaceful intent had been mooted before by senior U.S. officials.
But President Bush's comments Sunday, on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Bangkok, gave the idea new prominence, as efforts continue to convene another round of multi-lateral talks on the nuclear issue under Chinese sponsorship.
Mr. Bush said a non-aggression treaty with Pyongyang is in his words "off the table," but said there are "perhaps other ways" of putting such assurances on paper, with the consent of U.S. partners in the talks with Pyongyang, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.
He later met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and said they discussed how to reach their mutual goal of a nuclear weapons-free Korean peninsula, as well as addressing North Korea's security concerns within the context of the six-party talks.
In an appearance on the Fox News Sunday program, Secretary of State Colin Powell said there are historical "models" for the multi-lateral security accord being considered, and that U.S. ideas would be shared with the other participants in the dialogue. "We have to talk to the other parties, there are five, uh, four parties, who are on our side of this issue, and then present some ideas to the North Koreans, and let them know once again that we have no intention to invade. And we are willing to enter into some sort of agreement with them that will give them the assurances that they are looking for. But it must, of course, be matched by their willingness to give up their nuclear program, and give it up in a verifiable way," he said.
Senior officials say the administration is proposing a multi-lateral security document, in part because North Korea violated the 1994 "agreed framework" with the United States under which Pyongyang was to have frozen its nuclear program in exchange for western energy assistance.
They say enlisting other nations would reduce the likelihood of North Korea violating the agreement, since it would be breaking its word to several key countries in the region and not just the United States.
No talks have been scheduled since an inconclusive round in Beijing in late August, though Mr. Powell told the NBC-TV network on Sunday that he is hopeful of another meeting "in the not too distant future."