North Korea will allow inspectors to conduct a survey of its nuclear facilities, the chief U.S. envoy to the communist regime said Friday at an Asian economic summit in Australia that is being attended by President Bush.
Meanwhile, Bush's meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit with his South Korean counterpart, Roh Moo-hyun, ended on a sour note when Roh challenged Bush to make a declaration to end the Korean War. That conflict ended in a truce in 1953, not a peace treaty, so the two sides technically remain at war.
North Korea has invited nuclear experts from the United States, China and Russia into the country and recommend ways of disabling all of its nuclear facilities by the end of the year, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said.
Hill, the chief U.S. envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue, called the overture from Pyongyang "another significant step toward the de-nuclearization" of the Korean peninsula. He said the team of experts would go to North Korea on Tuesday for an initial four-day survey.
He said it was the first time a team of international nuclear experts had been invited into the country.
"I think it's a sign that this current phase of disabling is an ambitious phase," Hill said. "We have a lot of work to do. It's a sign of the seriousness of purpose that all parties, including the North Koreans, bring to bear on this issue."
Under a deal reached in February after years of tortuous negotiations, North Korea agreed to relinquish its nuclear programs, including one that has produced bomb material. In return, Washington agreed to open talks on establishing normal diplomatic relations with the North and to explore removing a terrorism designation for Pyongyang, among other inducements.
Hill was accompanying President Bush, who is in Sydney attending the 21-nation APEC forum. Hill made the announcement during a White House briefing on Bush's activities, which included the tense meeting earlier Friday with South Korea's Roh.
During a photo opportunity with the two leaders, Bush said that during his talks with Roh, he had reaffirmed the U.S. position that when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il dismantles his nuclear program, the United States would formally end the Korean War.
As cameras clicked, Roh listened to the translation and responded that he "did not hear President Bush mention the – a declaration to end the Korean War just now."
Bush said he thought he was being clear, but obliged Roh and restated the U.S. position.
That wasn't good enough either. "If you could be a little bit clearer in your message," Roh said.
Bush, looking irritated, replied: "I can't make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will end - will happen when Kim verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons."
The White House immediately downplayed the testy exchange and said the meeting went smoothly.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press