Sat, May 17, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Roh, Bush report a good rapport during Washington meet

AFP , SAN FRANCISCO

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun suggested Thursday he had found a kindred spirit in US President George W. Bush, a day after their White House summit sketched over differences in how to thwart North Korea's nuclear quest.

Roh told Korean reporters as he flew from the US capital to the final stop of his US tour, San Francisco, that he was delighted with the talks, which took place at a crucial time in the North Korea nuclear crisis.

"He [Bush] is self-confident and frank. He likes plain talking. Like me, in a way. We had chemistry," said Roh as he wrapped up his first-ever visit to the US.

Bush described Roh as "an easy man to talk to" after their 30-minute meeting, which was followed by dinner at the White House.

Both men stressed their countries were united on the fundamentals of the North Korea question, despite clear differences of approach.

But in their joint press appearance in the White House Rose Garden late Wednesday, Roh and Bush did not take questions, fanning suggestions that their carefully choreographed meeting intentionally papered over large gaps on how to deal with Pyongyang.

"It's the best possible outcome of the summit -- the two leaders have established a fundamental relationship based on trust," Roh's National Security Advisor Ra Jong-yil said.

Bush's last meeting with a South Korean president, former leader Kim Dae-jung in March 2001, was widely seen as a diplomatic disaster.

US Ambassador to South Korea Thomas Hubbard said at a reception at a San Francisco hotel in honor of Roh that the US leader was also happy with the summit.

But Roh signaled earlier in a television interview that differences of approach remained over the North Korea crisis, despite the bonhomie in evidence at the White House.

Roh was asked whether he supported the idea of offering incentives for an end to North Korean nuclear programs -- an option the US says would be tantamount to "blackmail."

"When Korea, China, Japan and the United States offers what North Korea wants, maybe North Korea's attitude may chance in the future," Roh said on PBS Newshour.

"That is if the North Korea receives security guarantees and if it receives an opportunity to reform and open up its economy, then there is a high likelihood that it will be willing to renounce its nuclear program," he said.

US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday before Bush and Roh met that the administration was opposed to such an approach.

"Our policy toward North Korea can really be summed up as follows: no one should be willing to give into the kind of blackmail that the North Koreans have been practicing on the world for a number of years now, especially not the United States," she said.

In a joint statement after their talks, Bush and Roh warned they would "not tolerate" a nuclear North Korea but would seek a "peaceful" end to the showdown over Pyongyang's quest for nuclear weapons.

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