During his weeklong trip to Asia, President Bush will try to promote continued stability on the Korean peninsula. But the White House is not softening its stance toward North Korea.

Sunday was North Korean President Kim Jong Il's 60th birthday. Secretary of State Colin Powell had this birthday message for the communist leader. "At the age of 60," Mr. Powell said, "one should look forward in a positive way and think of one's legacy. And the South Koreans want to reach out in your time of trouble. America has said clearly that it wants to speak with North Korea. We are willing to meet with North Korean leaders at any time, any place without any pre-conditions, to discuss the issues between our two countries."

Secretary Powell made his comments on the NBC television program Meet the Press.

The United States has thousands of troops stationed on the Korean peninsula to help keep peace between the two Koreas. According to Bush Administration officials, people in the north are starving while their government manufactures ballistic weapons and is spreading them around the world.

Part of President Bush's mission to Seoul, beginning Tuesday, will be to help South Korea come up with a negotiation strategy for talks with Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, the President's first stop is Tokyo, where his inclusion of North Korea as one of three countries that make up an "axis of evil" has been criticized by the Japanese defense minister.

North Korea has no ties to Al Qaida and the Taleban, but in defending the President's statement, U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says that does not matter. "The 'axis of evil' is a group that has these common characteristics, " she said. "First of all, they are repressive regimes that are opaque, it is difficult to know what they are doing. They are very, very harsh on their people. They are also regimes that are aggressively seeking weapons of mass destruction. So, North Korea, Iran, and Iraq got on this list the old fashioned way. They earned it."

Ms. Rice was interviewed on ABC television's This Week. She is traveling in Asia with President Bush.