Published October 26, 2002
| Associated Press
CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico – Facing a crisis in Asia, President Bush joined with Japan and South Korea on Saturday to demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program "in a prompt and verifiable manner." They pledged to resolve the standoff peacefully.
Bush also sought support for possible war with Iraq as Pacific Rim leaders stung by terrorism gathered for their annual summit.
The president met with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the sidelines of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, a two-day summit addressing terrorism's impact on people and economies across the globe.
"The three leaders called upon North Korea to dismantle this program in a prompt and verifiable manner and to come into full compliance with all its international commitments in conformity with North Korea's recent commitment" to international accords, the three leaders said in a statement.
Secretary of State Colin Powell later told reporters that the United States has no plans to open negotiations with North Korea. Advisers say Bush is afraid of creating an impression that he is rewarding North Korea for its bad behavior.
Powell said it was premature to discuss possible economic sanctions.
Earlier, Bush found another ally in Mexican President Vicente Fox, who is hosting the summit at this upscale sports-fishing resort.
"Our goal is to work with our friends in the region to convince (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Il to disarm," Bush said during a joint appearance with Fox.
Ahead of his closed-door meeting with the Japanese and South Korean leaders, Bush said: "The strategy is to make sure that our close friends and our allies and people with whom we've got relations work in concert to convince Mr. Kim Jong Il that a nuclear weapons-free peninsula is in his interests, it's in South Korea's interests, it is the world's interest," Bush said.
The joint statement with Japan and South Korea approved Tokyo's plans to hold talks with North Korea. Those negotiations, once aimed at normalizing relations, will now "serve as important channels to call upon the North to respond quickly and convincingly to the international communities' demands for a denuclearized Korean peninsula," the statement said.
South Korea pledged to press North Korea. For his part, Bush said in the statement that the United States "has no intention of invading North Korea."
Terrorism also was a leading issue at the summit.
The two highest-profile terrorist attacks of recent years — the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Oct. 12 nightclub bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali — took place in APEC nations. Other members of the 21-nation group, including Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, have been identified as possible havens for extremists linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled his trip to APEC, and talks in Mexico with Bush, to deal with the hostage crisis in Moscow started by Chechen insurgents who want Russian troops out of Chechnya. Russian special forces ended the siege — called a terrorist act by Russian officials — by killing dozens of gunmen and their leader while freeing more than 700 captives.
In a summit sidebar, Bush was meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to press for a crackdown against terrorist groups. U.S. officials hope the Bali bombing shakes Indonesian leaders from what the administration has viewed as a complacent attitude toward terrorism.
Before turning to North Korea and terrorism, Bush sat down for a potentially tense meeting with Fox, APEC's host. It was their first meeting since Fox canceled an August visit to four Texas cities and to Bush's ranch to protest the state's execution of convicted police killer Javier Suarez Medina, who Fox said was a Mexican national.
U.S.-Mexican relations, bolstered by the election of an American president with long ties to his southern neighbor, have cooled since the Sept. 11 attacks shifted Bush's focus to the war on terrorism. Mexico has accused Bush of ignoring immigration reform and other issues vital to the U.S.-Mexican relationship.
"I hope we can get the attention of the U.S. government to Mexico's affairs," Fox said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The Mexican leader did get Bush's attention by opposing the U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq. Instead, Mexico is backing a milder Russian-French proposal.
Bush wants a resolution demanding that Iraq quickly get rid of its weapons of mass destruction or face consequences, potentially military action. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said it would be "not very hard at all" to assemble an international coalition to confront Saddam Hussein without U.N. help, if necessary.
"If the United Nations does not pass a resolution which holds him to account and that has consequences," Bush said, "we will lead the coalition to disarm him."
North Korea stunned the world this month by acknowledging it has a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 accord with the United States.
Under the deal, North Korea had renounced nuclear weapons and Washington agreed to provide 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel annually. The Bush administration has not decided whether to stop future shipments now that Pyongyang has nullified the deal.
Another aspect of the deal is the construction of two light water reactors designed to replace plutonium-producing reactors that North Korea had been using. That project is being financed primarily by South Korea and Japan.