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Bush Faces Protests in South Korea - 2002-02-19

U.S. President George W. Bush has arrived in South Korea, where he is facing protests over his portrayal of North Korea as part of an "axis of evil." Mr. Bush says he has put North Korea on notice, while still supporting the reconciliation efforts of the South Korean government.

This is the part of the president's Asia tour that puts him on the threshold of the "axis of evil." Mr. Bush will visit the demilitarized zone along the border with North Korea, which country he says is a threat to world peace because it could help terrorists acquire chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

Speaking to legislators in Japan earlier Tuesday, Mr. Bush said the U.S.-Japanese alliance wants peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region, a goal which he says includes the end of division on the Korean peninsula. "We seek a region with strong institutions of economic and political cooperation, that is open to trade and investment on a global scale, a region in which people and capital and information can move freely, breaking down barriers and creating bonds of progress, ties of culture, and momentum towards democracy. We seek a region in which demilitarized zones and missile batteries no longer separate people with a common heritage and a common future," Mr. Bush said.

The president's comments on North Korea have sparked protests here in the south, where some feel the second phase of the U.S.-led war on terrorism could frustrate efforts to improve relations between the two Koreas. White House officials say the president is taking a two-track approach to North Korea, warning leaders that they must not arm terrorists, while supporting South Korean efforts toward eventual reunification.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says the United States has a number of options with North Korea. She says the Bush Administration wants a dialogue with North Korean leaders, but a dialogue on specific issues regarding weapons proliferation. Dialogue for the sake of dialogue, she says, is not worth it. "You can have several priorities with North Korea. And the most important priority for the United States is to get North Korea to stop doing the things that it's doing, so that it is not a danger to the Peninsula, a danger to the region, and - it turns out now - a danger globally. We absolutely support the priority that the South Korean president places on lessening tensions on the peninsula, on family reunification," Ms. Rice said.

South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung wants to improve relations with the North. He is looking for continuing U.S. support for his "sunshine" policy at a time when Mr. Bush says he has put North Korea on notice that he will not rule out any possibilities, including military action, to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush meets with the South Korean leader Wednesday at his official residence, the Blue House. They will have a joint news conference before Mr. Bush leaves for the demilitarized zone, where he will have lunch with some of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

The president then visits the Dorasan train station, which was to be a link on the so-called "unification railway" between the nations. South Korea finished work on the station earlier this month. North Korea has yet to begin construction on its side of the border.