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Bush: US, South Korea 'Will Not Tolerate' Nuclear Weapons in North Korea - 2003-05-15

President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun have agreed to work together to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. The White House says it is prepared to have further multilateral talks with North Korea.

It was President Bush's first meeting with the new South Korean leader and after a half-hour meeting in the Oval Office, the men spoke to reporters in the Rose Garden before a private dinner.

President Bush said they agreed they "will not tolerate" nuclear weapons in North Korea.

"We of course discussed the need to have a nuclear weapons free Korean peninsula," he stressed. "I assured the president we will continue to work to achieve a peaceful solution."

South Korea wants President Bush to rule out a possible military response. The White House says it is keeping all of its option open including economic sanctions following last month's talks between U.S., North Korean, and Chinese officials in Beijing.

The president's national security advisor Condoleezza Rice says Washington is prepared to hold further multi-lateral talks but will not give in to what she calls North Korean "blackmail."

President Bush and President Roh say they are both committed to working with the international community to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. While last month's talks involved only U.S., North Korean, and Chinese officials, the Bush administration says it wants future negotiations to include Japan and South Korea as well.

President Roh said he and President Bush are working to strengthen their alliance to check North Korea's nuclear ambitions as well as expand U.S.-South Korean trade.

"We have reached agreement that the Korea-U.S. alliance has been maintaining its strength over the past 50 years and it will become only more strong over the coming 50 years or even more," he said.

President Roh added that North Korea must be stopped from moving nuclear materials to other countries.

The crisis over North Korea's nuclear program began last October when Pyongyang acknowledged that it had a covert nuclear enrichment program that violates international agreements.

President Bush and President Roh also discussed the 37,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in South Korea. President Roh won election in a campaign where he said some of those troops should leave the country.

In a joint statement following their White House meeting, the two leaders agreed to work together to restructure that force while taking what it called "careful account of the political, economic and security situation on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia."