SANTIAGO, Chile – President Bush is trying to build international pressure on North Korea to return to high-stakes nuclear talks at the same time he reassures Asian leaders about the U.S. approach.
Bush, who arrived here Friday night, will talk today with the leaders of China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, his partners in negotiations to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. After three rounds of inconclusive talks, North Korea refused to attend a scheduled fourth session in September, reportedly because it wanted to see who would win the U.S. presidential election.
The North Korea discussions will take place on the sidelines of the annual 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, a group whose far-flung membership ranges from Asia to New Zealand to the Americas. Thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown Santiago on Friday in protest of the summit, the presence of Bush and the war in Iraq.
In the 21-nation summit, Bush hopes to build on last year’s pledges from regional leaders to intensify their crackdown on terror groups and curb the spread of unconventional weapons. Freer trade and less government corruption also will get attention at Bush’s meetings.
North Korea, along with Iran and pre-war Iraq, is part of what Bush has called an “axis of evil.” North Korea has accused Washington of having a hostile policy and says it wants economic aid and U.S. guarantees of nonaggression in return for giving up its nuclear program. Bush has maintained a no-concessions strategy for the resumption of talks.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions also are a matter of heightened concern and will be a subject of Bush’s conversations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and others, National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said. Facing a Monday deadline to stop all work related to uranium enrichment, Iran is racing to convert tons of ore into a dual-use gas that could then be processed to make nuclear weapons, diplomats in Vienna, Austria, said.
Plotting strategy for those meetings with his national security advisers took up a large chunk of Bush’s time on the long flight to Chile, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
President Bush arrives Friday in Santiago, Chile, with first lady Laura Bush for an economic summit.