Bush: North's conventional arms would loom large in any dialogue

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Bush: North's conventional arms would loom large in any dialogue

President George W. Bush met with reporters from Asia to preview his swing through the region. The press meeting was held at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Friday afternoon, Washington time. The interviewers were JoongAng Ilbo's Washington correspondent Kim Jin and reporters from Japan's Asahi Shimbun, China's Xinhua News Agency and the Asian Wall Street Journal. The following are Korea-related excerpts from the interview.

Kim: Mr. President, I am Kim Jin from the JoongAng Ilbo of Korea.

Mr. President, you are expecting to talk with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung about how to address North Korea. Would you tell me your ideas on how the U.S. and South Korea should engage North Korea, and how North Korea should respond?

Bush: Sure. It's a very good question. First, I have also great respect for Kim Dae-jung. He is a remarkable individual who, as a result of his courage, has had a big impact on the people of South Korea.

Secondly, I appreciate his efforts to reach out to North Korea. I just wish the same spirit were on the other side of the border. Kim Dae-jung cares deeply about a unified peninsula. Because North Korean society is not transparent, because we don't know, it's very difficult to tell if that same spirit exists - the willingness to work toward reunification. I have been disappointed that the efforts of Kim Dae-jung have been rejected by North Korea.

I, too, hope that there's reunification. That's why I said early along I support the sunshine policy. As well, I think it is very important for us to have a very good and candid discussion, which we will, about why I am concerned about North Korea's willingness and continued persistence in the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

And I think it's very important for all nations of the world to make it clear that if you want to be in good standing in the world, that you should not be spreading weapons of mass destruction. And so I will make that clear to him in a very respectful way.

I am very much looking forward to my trip to Korea. I have never been there. I'm looking forward also to making this important point: On one side of the demilitarized zone are people who are starving to death, are people who are imprisoned, are people who can't speak their mind freely. On the other side are free people with a fantastic economy and great opportunity. And I'm going to remind people of the fundamental question - why?

It's because of freedom. One group of leaders embraces freedom for the people, and the other doesn't. And as you know by now, I'm a strong advocate of freedom. I stand strongly and squarely on the side of freedom. And I look forward to making that case to the Korean people. I can't wait to go.

Kim: Mr. President, despite your emphasis on dialogue, there is some concern among the South Korean people that your "axis of evil" comment could imply a possible military attack on North Korea. Does your remark mean a changing policy from dialogue to confrontation? What would you like to tell South Koreans?

Bush: I would like to tell South Koreans that I am a person who believes strongly in freedom, and I will wage a war against terror with all my heart and with every ounce of energy I have, in order to make sure that freedom prevails as we come in - our generation, so that our children can grow up in a peaceful world; and that nations which are not transparent, nations which imprison their people, which starve their people, and at the same time build up their weaponry are nations we'd better worry about.

And, therefore, I made a very clear moral statement about some nations in the world that behave in ways that clearly indicate that freedom isn't at their core.

Obviously - listen, our offer still stands for dialogue. We had no conditions on dialogue with North Korea, but it hasn't been taken up yet. We said, "We'll discuss things with you." And that's still on the table. But I have never got the phone call saying, "Well, Mr. President, we'd like to talk to you." I said that if we have dialogue, in order for relations to improve, one thing that would be helpful is if you'd pull back your conventional arms.

We've got a very important pact with South Korea that says we'll provide military security, and we're more than happy to do so as a nation. We've got a lot of troops there, and they cost a lot of money for both our governments. And the only reason they're there is because there are guns pointed at Seoul.

Now, if this is a man who believes in peace and reconciliation and sunshine policies, one of the things he needs to be told directly by us during conversations would be, move your arms back. Let's take the pressure off of good freedom-loving people. What's the reason why they have major artillery aimed at our friends, and our own troops?

And there's a lot of things we could discuss. The offer to discuss is - the South Korean people need to know the offer on the table to discuss things with North Korea is still there. It's just that he never called.

Kim: Mr. President, if North Korea abandons its policy of proliferating weapons of massive destruction and joins international society, what can they expect from the U.S. and the international community in terms of positive engagement?

Bush: Again, I repeat to you, we welcome discussions with North Korea. If they were to abandon their proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and make it - in a transparent way, so we would know, another verification, we would welcome trade.

By the way, the South Korean people need to know we're providing a lot of food for North Korea. Even though I label them with a particular label, that doesn't prevent us from wanting to feed their people. We have no beef with the North Korean people. As a matter of fact, I can't tell you how sorry I feel for the North Korean people. My heart breaks for people who live in a society that is not free, and where there's tremendous starvation.

And so we have - other nations, as well, it's not just America - we've helped feed them. But it would be a welcoming sign, and we would help welcome North Korea into the family of nations, and all the benefits, which would be trade and commerce and exchanges.

But it's more than just weapons of mass destruction that I'm concerned about. I'm also concerned about a regime that has got enormous fire power pointed at Seoul.

You see, I'm for peace on the peninsula. It's impossible to have peace on the peninsula if there are loaded guns pointed at somebody's head. And so I think the dialogue has got to be not only about weapons of mass destruction, which I'm deeply concerned about, but there is a local issue, and the local issue is how to defuse military tension so that nations don't have to divert money away from human needs into military budgets. And that's what's happening, as you well know.

And so I would hope that the dialogue would be a meaningful and constructive dialogue that would lead to peace on the Korean Peninsula.

I wish the family reunification plan that Kim Dae-jung had laid out were happening, and I can't understand why Kim Jong-il doesn't accept. I wonder out loud why the gestures of Kim Dae-jung haven't been met.

And until society in North Korea is more transparent, I can only assume the worst. And until they stop spreading weapons of mass destruction, I can only assume the worst. And I will continue to rally the vast coalition which we and the three other countries here are a part of in a move toward peace.
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