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Bush, Koizumi Step Up Pressure on North Korea

The two leaders vow 'tougher measures' if Pyongyang expands its nuclear arms program.

May 24, 2003|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

CRAWFORD, Texas — In a stern message to North Korea, President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi Friday threatened to take "tougher measures" if the Pyongyang regime escalates its nuclear program.

The two leaders also declared that the U.S. and Japan "will not settle for anything less than the complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs."

During a joint news conference at the president's ranch near here, Bush and Koizumi at times used identical wording in discussing the crisis on the Korean peninsula and were both adamant about addressing the threat.

"We will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea," Bush said.

Despite their strong words, both the president and Koizumi reiterated their belief that the controversy over North Korea's nuclear program can be resolved through diplomatic means -- even as the White House again refused to rule out the use of force.

Bush also said that he now favors expanding the talks among the United States, North Korea and China that began this spring in Beijing.

"The prime minister and I agreed that we must broaden these talks to include Japan and South Korea, and at some time later, perhaps others," Bush said.

He added that he and Koizumi view the confrontation with the regime in Pyongyang in "exactly the same way."

"The importance of this meeting today should say to the world that Japan and the United States stand shoulder to shoulder on the issue of North Korea's nuclear weaponry," Bush said.

After a meeting in Washington last week with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, Bush and Roh expressed a similar meeting of the minds, saying they would "not tolerate" nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. They issued a joint declaration warning of "further steps" if North Korea acted in a way that increased threats to peace and stability in the region.

Bush and Koizumi spoke during a brief appearance at the president's ranch after many hours of talks -- and quality time together.

"I've never spent so many hours discussing various issues with a head of state or head of government," Koizumi remarked. "And we discussed all sorts of issues very candidly and in depth."

At one point, after a tour of the Bush ranch in a pickup truck, with the president at the wheel, the two leaders sat by the swimming pool, virtually alone except for an interpreter, and chatted for nearly two hours, a senior administration official said.

In addition to North Korea, Bush and Koizumi discussed the ailing economies of their nations and the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Koizumi arrived at Bush's ranch late Thursday afternoon for what was their ninth meeting. He departed Friday evening for Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The prime minister's visit is part of a concerted effort by Bush to thank foreign leaders who backed the war against Iraq. Three weeks ago, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch ally in the Iraq war, was an overnight guest at the ranch.

Another key ally, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, paid a state visit to Washington on Monday.

The warning by Bush and Koizumi of "tougher measures" was deliberately ambiguous, according to the senior administration official.

"Even if you assume that the North Koreans are not going to be helpful, there are various different ways in which they cannot be helpful, calling out for different sorts of responses," the official said.

Among the actions that the U.S. would consider an escalation of tensions by North Korea, according to this official, are the reprocessing of nuclear material and "conventional provocation."

He added that Bush has not decided whether to include more nations in the next round of talks. "But I think we're coming pretty close to the point where we have to acknowledge that talks without Japan and South Korea allies don't make sense."

On a related topic, both Bush and Koizumi said without elaboration that the U.S. and Japan intend to "deepen" and "accelerate" cooperation on a ballistic missile defense system.

Later, the senior administration official refused to expand on their statements -- because, he said, the Japanese "have to work it out within their own system." In his opening remarks, Bush also strongly condemned the kidnapping of Japanese citizens by North Koreans, saying that America stands "squarely with Japan until all Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea are fully accounted for."

Bush also expressed his support for Koizumi's plan to revive Japan's economy. "A vibrant, dynamic Japanese economy is in America's interest, and it is in the world's interest," he said.

For his part, Koizumi vowed to "tackle" deflation and added: "I shall never allow a financial crisis to occur."

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