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Bush Optimistic on Resolving North Korea Issue Peacefully - 2003-01-02

In his first public appearance of the year, President Bush leveled criticism at North Korea's leaders, but said he still believes the dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program can be resolved peacefully.

The president had some harsh words for North Korea's Kim Jung Il, saying he is a leader who starves his people. He said Americans have big hearts, but he has no sympathy for someone who lets men, women and children die of starvation.

"The United States of America is one of the largest, if not the largest donor of food to the North Korean people," he said. "And one of the reasons why the people are starving is because the leader of North Korea hasn't seen to it that their economy is strong or that they be fed."

President Bush noted that in 1994, other countries offered to help North Korea in exchange for a pledge to halt its nuclear weapons program. He said that vow has been broken by Pyongyang.

"And the agreement was that with others we would provide, along with others, fuel oil and help and in return he would not enrich uranium," President Bush said. "Well, it turns out he was enriching uranium and we blew the whistle on the fact that he was in violation of the 94 agreement. And the parties to that agreement came together and said, well, in return for him making that decision and abrogating that agreement there will be a consequence. And that is where we stand right now."

He referred to Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to the ranch last year, and their joint commitment to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. Mr. Bush made clear once again that he wants to rely on diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang to reach that goal. And he indicated that other countries South Korea, Japan, Russia and China, are working behind the scenes to convince Kim Jong Il to reconsider his decision to resume a nuclear program.

"They may be putting pressure on him and you just don't know about it. But I know they are not reluctant when it comes to the idea of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula," said President Bush.

The Bush administration has made clear it is not interested in a pre-emptive strike against North Korea. The president said Tuesday that this is not a military showdown but a diplomatic one.