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Bush Blasts N. Korea Leader for Building Arms Amid Hunger

President says Kim Jong Il is building weapons while his people starve, and reaffirms his stand on multi-party talks with Pyongyang regime.

October 23, 2003|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

CANBERRA, Australia — President Bush on Wednesday called North Korea's Kim Jong Il a failed leader who builds nuclear weapons while his people go hungry.

"I just can't respect anybody that would really let his people starve and shrink in size as a result of malnutrition," Bush told reporters in a rare interview aboard Air Force One en route to Australia from Indonesia. "It's just unconscionable that that many people are starving in the 21st century."

Asked whether he regrets comments earlier this year in which he said he "loathed" the North Korean leader, Bush was unrepentant. "I feel strongly about failed leadership dashing the hopes of the people, in this case creating incredible starvation," he said.

Bush's comments came days after he offered to sign a multi-party nonaggression agreement, but not a treaty, if Pyongyang begins to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. North Korea called Bush's proposal laughable.

The president said he was pleased that other countries in the six-party negotiations with North Korea -- China, Japan, South Korea and Russia -- responded favorably to his proposal in a series of conversations during his weeklong tour of Asia and two days at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bangkok, Thailand.

Bush said the only way to get results from Kim was to form a multi-party front with North Korea's neighbors and allies.

"This requires a degree of patience, because Kim Jong Il is used to being able to deal bilaterally with the United States," Bush said. "But the change of policy now is ... that he must deal with other nations, most notably China."

The president also remarked on Tuesday's announcement by Iran -- a second member of what Bush labeled the "axis of evil" -- that it would cooperate with International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Bush said he was still waiting for confirmation of Iran's agreement with the IAEA, but welcomed the pledge as a first step: "The IAEA must be allowed in, and we'll discuss it then.... That will help relations with Iran, obviously, if they do abandon a nuclear weapons program.

"You've got to have patience in foreign policy."

Bush said the international approach to the nuclear threats in Iran and North Korea was similar -- using "a collective voice trying to convince a leader to change behavior."

"I've been saying all along that not every policy issue needs to be dealt with by force," Bush said. "There are ways to achieve common objectives, and this is a common objective."

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