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Bush urges unity against North Korea nuclear program

U.S. officials hope for resumed six-party talks

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

President Bush shakes hands with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos on Saturday in Santiago.
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President Bush presses North Korea on its nuclear program.

President Bush meets other APEC leaders in Chile.
North Korea
George W. Bush

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNN) -- President Bush met Saturday with his four partners in the so-called six-party talks and said they should send a clear message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il: "Get rid of your nuclear weapons programs."

U.S. officials said Saturday's talks made them optimistic that the North Korean government would soon agree to resume negotiations. The officials were most encouraged by the perspective of Chinese President Hu Jintao.

China has met officials in Pyongyang, North Korea, in recent weeks, and Hu told Bush, according to U.S. officials, that he was optimistic North Korea understood the political climate and would soon agree to return to the talks.

Saturday's quick, separate meetings with the leaders of China, Japan, South Korea and Russia at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit were part of a calculated White House effort to make clear that North Korea faces a choice: return to the multilateral talks or face further international isolation.

The discussions were a sidebar to the 21-nation summit of leaders of Asian and Pacific nations.

The six-party talks have been on hold for five months, an effort by North Korea to "run out the clock," senior U.S. officials said. Sen. John Kerry, Bush's election opponent, had said he would negotiate directly with North Korea.

Bush said again Saturday that "the six-party talks are -- will be -- the framework."

Bush and his partners have had some tactical disputes.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said this week that the United States could be more flexible. Others involved have more quietly signaled that progress might come more quickly if Bush would abandon the U.S. formula for progress.

Under the U.S. proposal, Washington would offer security assurances and economic incentives to North Korea, but only after that nation committed to a verifiable and permanent dismantling of its nuclear weapons program.

South Korea and other countries involved have suggested that if Bush would make those assurances first, or at least simultaneously with North Korean concessions, progress would come quickly.

The United States has said it will not reward a country that has violated previous agreements.

U.S. officials in Chile said that creating the pressure to get North Korea back to the bargaining table is Bush's overriding APEC summit goal and that tactical discussions can take place later.

At an afternoon speech to CEOs, Bush sounded confident he was on the path to achieving that goal. Noting his meetings with the four other participants, Bush said, "The message is clear to Kim Jong Il: Get rid of your nuclear weapons programs."

One U.S. official said he did not rule out new talks before the end of the year; others suggested talks might resume early in 2005.

Other issues

Bush had an awkward meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a leader he has effusively praised in the past as a friend committed to leading Russia to a market economy and stronger democracy.

Bush and Putin said little in a photo opportunity before a luncheon meeting. In private, U.S. officials said Bush and Putin had a spirited back-and-forth discussion as the U.S. president asked Putin to square dramatic steps to tighten Kremlin control over Russia with his oft-stated commitment to democracy.

U.S. officials said Putin forcefully defended his actions, citing Russia's political history. After the talks, White House officials could say only that the discussions will continue.

Economics were also a focus of talks with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Japan is concerned about the weak U.S. dollar, fearing it might make its exports uncompetitive. Bush assured him the nation is committed to strengthening the dollar and reducing its deficit.

The glow of re-election did not shield Bush from pressure on key economic issues. Though he offered no specific proposals, he promised to push for a stronger dollar and lower U.S. budget deficits, amid complaints from both sides of the Pacific that U.S. policies are causing a drag on other economies.

APEC's 21 members are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, United States and Vietnam.

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