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Bush, Roh Meet to Discuss N. Korea - 2003-10-20

U.S. President George Bush met with South Korea's leader on Monday in hopes of advancing regional efforts to convince North Korea to give-up its nuclear weapons program. Mr. Bush is in Thailand for the start of an Asian economic summit.

President Bush says he and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun share a common goal of making the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear-weapons. "We're making good progress on peacefully solving the issue with North Korea. And, during this breakfast I will share ideas and listen to ideas from President Roh as to how to move the process forward," he says.

Speaking in front of reporters before their meeting, President Roh thanked Mr. Bush for pushing forward with six-party talks on North Korea which join the two Korea's with the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

President Bush is repeating his long-standing promise not to invade North Korea and is offering written security guarantees in exchange for Pyongyang's promise to verifiably end its nuclear weapons program. But, those guarantees will not be part of a formal non-aggression treaty which North Korea says is a prerequisite for continuing six-party talks.

Sunday, North Korea's state-run newspaper said this regional economic forum in Thailand is not the place to discuss its nuclear weapons program because the issue is one that should be decided between North Korea and the United States.

That is just the sort of bilateral focus the Bush Administration is rejecting because it says past agreements between the two countries were too easily broken.

Senior administration officials believe a multilateral security agreement would be harder for North Korea to violate because it would then be breaking its word not only with Washington but with Seoul, Beijing, Moscow, and Tokyo as well.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says more talks could yield positive results, if North Korea's security concerns are addressed. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is backing the U.S. push for new negotiations, and Chinese President Hu Jintao says he is striving for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear crisis.

Although Washington recognizes Pyongyang is holding-out for a formal non-aggression treaty, U.S. officials are hopeful Chinese authorities might be able to convince North Korea that multilateral security guarantees are the best they are going to get.