SYDNEY, Australia – In an unexpected twist, President Bush’s bout of diplomacy in Asia hit a snag in dealings with longtime ally South Korea and drew a conciliatory gesture from “Axis of Evil” member North Korea.
Just hours after Bush suffered an awkward moment on Friday with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun over terms for ending the Korean War, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill announced a breakthrough in efforts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.
North Korea has invited nuclear experts from the United States, China and Russia into the country to survey and recommend ways of disabling all of its atomic facilities by the end of the year, Hill, the chief U.S. envoy to the communist regime, announced Friday. The team will go next week.
Hill called the overture “another significant step toward the de-nuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.
Bush was wrapping up his Asia visit today, joining Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for breakfast in a glassed-in room on the 31st floor of a hotel overlooking the Opera House on a drizzly morning.
In an unexpected confrontation on Friday, Roh publicly challenged Bush during a picture-taking session to pledge support for “a declaration to end the Korean War.” That conflict ended in a truce in 1953, not with a peace treaty, so the two sides technically remain at war.
Bush said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has “got to get rid of his (nuclear) weapons in a verifiable fashion” for the United States to agree to sign a peace treaty. Roh told Bush he should “be a bit clearer in your message,” and Bush shot back, “I can’t make it any more clear, Mr. President.”
The White House played down the testy exchange between the South Korean president, and Bush and said the meeting went smoothly. “There was clearly something lost in translation,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Despite Roh’s challenge for Bush to make a declaration to end the war, the war was not between the United States and the North but between the North and the United Nations. Bush alone could not end the war with a declaration. “As we say, ‘all parties involved,’ ” Johndroe said, when asked about the mechanics of achieving a peace treaty.