Tags: Korea | Relieved | Bush | Closes | Policy | Gap

S. Korea Relieved as Bush Closes Policy Gap

Thursday, 21 February 2002 12:00 AM

Government officials said Bush and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung used their first meeting in Seoul to bridge perceived policy gaps between the two allies over how to handle North Korea.

These gaps emerged late last month when Bush condemned North Korea as part of an "axis of evil," which sparked concerns in South Korea that the robust rhetoric may trigger new tensions on the divided Korean peninsula.

"Kim and Bush have found enough in common during their talks focused on North Korea," an official said. "Bush eased worries that his tough stance may upset fledgling inter-Korean reconciliation and peace process on the peninsula," Kim Euy-taek, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told United Press International.

Presidential spokeswoman Park Son-sook also said the summit helped lift concerns in South Korea over Bush's hardline North Korea policy.

"We regard President Bush's remarks saying he did not seek war with North Korea as a particularly big help in dispelling our worries," Park told journalists.

After the summit, Bush told reporters that he had "no intention of invading North Korea" and the United States is "purely defensive," which was a relief to South Korean officials who were dismayed by the "axis of evil" remark. Praising Kim's "sunshine policy" of peaceful engagement with the North as a "vision of reconciliation over rivalry," Bush said his country also hopes for dialogue with the North "despite our concerns about the regime."

But Bush did not back off from his negative attitude toward the communist regime led by Kim Jong Il, vowing not to "permit the world most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most dangerous weapons.

"The stability of this peninsula is built on the military might of our great alliance," Bush said before thousands of U.S. troops at an air base south of Seoul on Thursday before flying to China, the last leg of an Asian tour which began in Japan.

Upbeat about Bush's calls for dialogue with the North, South Korea will come up with fresh reconciliation efforts toward North Korea, a government official told UPI. Inter-Korea exchanges, which flourished after their summit in 2000, came to a halt early last year when the Bush administration vowed to take a harder stance on North Korea.

But analysts here rule out immediate progress in the Korean peace process. "Bush's statements lack substantial measures to revive talks with the North," said Kim Yeon-chol of the private Samsung Economic Research Institute. "North Korea is likely to regard it as U.S. intention not to have talks," he said.

"Even if the two sides open talks, they will have a long way to go due to disputes over the North's weapons of mass destruction," said Park Kon-young, a professor at Catholic University of Korea.

North Korea made no immediate response to the Kim-Bush summit, but its propaganda machines have continued to lash out at Bush. The North's state press said Bush's description of North Korea as "axis of evil" represents Washington's "reckless attempt" to launch military attacks on it, calling Bush "chieftain of evil" who is trying to "conquer the world" and "stifle" the North by force.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Government officials said Bush and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung used their first meeting in Seoul to bridge perceived policy gaps between the two allies over how to handle North Korea. These gaps emerged late last month when Bush condemned North Korea as part of an...
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2002-00-21
Thursday, 21 February 2002 12:00 AM
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