North Korea, angry at being called part of an "axis of evil" by President Bush, has labeled him "the most bellicose and heinous" U.S. president, whose visit next week to South Korea is aimed at increasing the danger of war on the divided peninsula. The heightened rhetoric follows conciliatory talk from Washington about restarting stalled dialogue.
In a commentary carried by communist North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency Wednesday, Pyongyang described President Bush's Seoul visit next week as a "junket aimed to drive the South Korean authorities to a fratricidal war."
It also accused Mr. Bush of using the trip to assess the readiness of U.S. forces for a war. About 37,000 U.S. troops have been stationed in the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953 to help defend against a potential North Korean invasion. The two Koreas are still technically at war, as the war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
Mr. Bush will visit Seoul next Tuesday and Wednesday as part of an Asian tour that also includes Japan and China. He and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung are expected to discuss President Bush's State of the Union address last month, in which he said North Korea, Iran, and Iraq were part of an "axis of evil" intent on developing weapons of mass destruction.
The speech has alarmed the government in Seoul, which fears the remarks could derail South Korean efforts to bring the North out of isolation and eventually achieve a peaceful reunification. South Korea is one of the United State's staunchest allies in Asia.
President Kim has been quietly urging Washington to soften its stance on North Korea. Talks to reduce tension on the peninsula stalled a little over a year ago, after Mr. Bush took office and conducted a policy review. Last June, Washington offered to conditionally resume negotiations, but Pyongyang has not responded so far.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Senate panel that Mr. Bush, this time, will make an unconditional offer of U.S. dialogue with North Korea next week in Seoul. "We are ready to talk to the North Koreans. We are ready for dialogue, anytime, any place, anywhere with no preconditions. I repeat that again this morning, as the president will next week in Korea," Mr. Powell said.
Mr. Powell also says there is currently no U.S. plan to wage war against North Korea. He says Mr. Bush will be working hard with South Korean officials on a joint strategy for dealing with the North.