South Korea Tries to Talk to North on Eve of Bush Visit

On the eve of President Bush's visit, South Korea again appealed to North Korea to revive the stalled reconciliation process on their peninsula.

Bush, who was in Tokyo on Monday, was scheduled to fly to Seoul on Tuesday to meet with President Kim Dae-jung and visit the inter-Korean border. He will travel to China on Thursday.

"We expect that North Korea will respond to our offer of dialogue at an early date so that mountains of pending issues between the two sides can be discussed and resolved," South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles North Korea policy, said in a statement Monday.

The appeal was made ahead of Tuesday's 10th anniversary of the Basic Agreement, part of a 1992 deal in which the Koreas pledged to renounce hostilities and ban the development and deployment of nuclear weapons on the peninsula.

The agreement, once hailed as a major breakthrough in inter-Korean relations, never was implemented in earnest because of political and military tensions.

Two years later, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, touching off a crisis on the peninsula.

North Korea later retracted its decision after striking a deal with Washington to freeze its suspected nuclear weapons program in return for the construction of two nuclear reactors by a U.S.-led consortium.

Bush has said he supports South Korea's efforts to reconcile with its communist neighbor. But he said he will remind the world during his South Korea visit that North Korea poses a threat to peace.

In his State of the Union speech, Bush condemned North Korea as part of "an axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq, and warned that he will not allow them to threaten world peace with weapons of mass destruction.

About 50 anti-U.S. activists demonstrated near the U.S. Embassy on Monday, and some scuffled with police. The protesters said Bush's "axis of evil" remark was heightening tensions on the peninsula.

About 20 other anti-U.S. activists were detained after occupying an office of the American Chamber of Commerce to protest Bush's scheduled visit. The students were unarmed and there were no immediate reports of injuries.

North Korea's state-run Radio Pyongyang on Monday reiterated criticism of Bush's remark, saying he was "a politician who is ignorant and poor in theoretical ability."

The broadcast was monitored in Tokyo by Radiopress.

Bush has offered to negotiate with North Korea, but the Pyongyang government has not accepted, saying the United States is intent on war. Inter-Korean dialogue also remains frozen amid U.S.-North Korea tension.

On Monday, North Korea agreed to reschedule joint pro-unification rallies at North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort from Feb. 19-21 to Feb. 26-28.

South Korean organizers asked to postpone the rallies until after Bush's visit to Seoul.

The Koreas were divided in 1945. The United States keeps 37,000 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.