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Bush Consults With China and Russia

As the U.S. pushes for a unified response on North Korea, U.N. leaders continue talks.

July 07, 2006|James Gerstenzang and Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Stepping up his effort to exert diplomatic pressure on North Korea, President Bush consulted by telephone Thursday with his Russian and Chinese counterparts, while diplomats at the United Nations searched for a way to address Pyongyang's missile tests and its threat to launch more.

As the U.N. Security Council met for a second day on the issue, the Bush administration sought to damp expectation of speedy action.

The president told reporters that "diplomacy takes a while," and his spokesman, urging patience, said officials were not conducting "diplomacy with an egg timer."

Despite signs of disagreement at the Security Council, Bush sought what he described as a unified approach to keep the North Korean leadership in isolation after it test-fired seven missiles Wednesday.

In talking to Russia and China, Bush was appealing to the two nations that might pose the most direct obstacle to proposals for concrete penalties against North Korea.

China also urged caution. After President Hu Jintao spoke with Bush, the Chinese government said in a statement that "under the current complicated circumstances, it is extremely necessary to maintain calm and restraint."

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, in a live public conference conducted over the Internet, said that threatening North Korea would be counterproductive. He criticized the missile tests but said they "should not lead to such emotions that would drown out common sense."

"We have to create an atmosphere that will lead to compromise," Putin said in the broadcast on a BBC website and a Russian site.

Although the leaders urged patience, each is faced with limited options, given the restricted trade and diplomatic ties to North Korea. Bush has sought to further isolate leader Kim Jong Il and to encourage more moderate behavior by the Pyongyang regime, with no sign that his approach has had an effect.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said "many tools" were available to the U.S. and its partners.

"But I'm not going to lay out for you the full options," he said, in keeping with the administration's refusal to discuss avenues other than diplomacy.

Bush said Thursday night that the Pentagon's rudimentary missile defense system, based in Alaska and California, would have been used if missiles threatened U.S. territory.

"We had a plan in place to respond if he were to fire these things," Bush said in an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live." "If it headed to the United States, we've got a missile defense system that will defend our country."

Pentagon officials continued to downplay any U.S. military role in response to the missile tests. The Navy announced Thursday that the aircraft carrier Enterprise was being redeployed from the Persian Gulf, where it backed the U.S. effort in Iraq, to the western Pacific, where it will join the Navy's 7th Fleet. The fleet last month conducted a massive set of maneuvers near Guam. Military officials said the ship movements were routine and had been planned.

Historically, China and Russia have been North Korea's closest -- though at times estranged -- partners.

Bush's telephone diplomacy Thursday followed calls Wednesday evening to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

"My message was that we want to solve this problem diplomatically, and the best way to solve the problem diplomatically is for all of us to be working in concert," Bush said.

Referring to the North Koreans' now broken declaration of a moratorium on missile tests, Bush said the group of nations needed to send a single message to Kim: "That we expect you to adhere to international norms and we expect you to keep your word."

Speaking to reporters at the White House after meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bush expressed frustration over the difficulty in determining what was taking place in North Korea and figuring out Kim's intentions.

"We're dealing with a person who was asked not to fire a rocket by the Chinese, the South Koreans, the United States, the Japanese and the Russians, and he fired seven of them," the president said.

"I was pleased from the response I got from the leaders," Bush said of his telephone calls. "They, like me, were -- are -- concerned, concerned about a person who doesn't seem to really care about what others say."

Asked whether he thought Kim was a threat to world peace, the president said, "Let's put it this way: He's going to pose less of a threat the more isolated he becomes."

The South Koreans have put humanitarian aid requests on hold but have not cut off economic ties with their estranged neighbor as a result of the launch. A joint industrial park will continue as planned.

Cabinet-level meetings between North and South are to take place on schedule next week in Busan, South Korea.

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