WASHINGTON – President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said Thursday their nations are committed to luring North Korea back to stalled negotiations over its nuclear weapons program, ignoring differences about the best way do so.
Bush said that the decision of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to boycott the talks "has really strengthened the alliance" of the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Roh echoed that, saying the countries would work together to restart negotiations.
Since North Korea began boycotting the disarmament talks in November, the reclusive country has sparked fears around the world as reports circulate that it may be preparing for a nuclear bomb test. North Korea also defied international warnings and test-launched seven missiles in July.
Some observers have suggested that mixed messages from Washington and Seoul on how to solve the crisis have allowed Pyongyang to augment its nuclear arsenal as the country falls into deeper isolation.
The Bush administration favors a hard-line approach, refusing to talk to the North outside of six-nation talks. Roh has tried to engage Kim's communist government.
Roh's low-key trip to Washington had many wondering if there are cracks in an alliance forged five decades ago during the Korean War. Before his meetings with Bush, the South Korean leader acknowledged that people in both countries "are quite concerned about the current state of relations between Korea and the United States."
Roh and Bush also discussed Seoul's desire to retake wartime command of its troops from the United States.
Bush said the U.S. is committed to the security of the Korean peninsula.
"Decisions about the placement of our troops and the size of our troops will be made in consultation with the Korean government," he said.