Bush, S. Korea United Against Nuclear N. Korea

President Bush meets with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in advance of Friday's opening of a 21-nation trade and economic summit. The two leaders expressed hope that ongoing six-party talks would help curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush is in South Korea where he conferred with the country's leader in advance of tomorrow's opening of a 21-nation trade and economic summit. The two men agreed that a nuclear North Korea will not be tolerated and they expressed the hope that the ongoing six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions will be successful. NPR's David Greene is with the president.

And, David, concern over North Korea was a major topic during today's talks, I gather.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

It was. You know, President Bush and President Roh Moo-hyun aren't always in perfect sync on North Korea. Mr. Bush usually talks tough and is wary of making any deals with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, and South Korea's always pretty skittish about threatening the North too much since it shares a border with them.

But as the APEC summit gets ready to open, the two leaders really seem to want to show a united front here. North Korea agreed in principle in September to abandon its nuclear weapons program, and, for the moment, Mr. Bush seems ready to let at least a few days of diplomatic discussion work their course. He seems to have toned down his rhetoric here for now. In Brazil, he called Kim Jong Il a tyrant. There's been none of that since Mr. Bush arrived in Asia.

MONTAGNE: Bird flu is another hot topic there. What role will that play at the APEC summit, which opens tomorrow?

GREENE: Well, the White House says it's going to play a pretty big role. They said if there's any real tangible achievement from this summit, it will be on bird flu. Asia, as you know, has seen actual cases and there's some anxiety here. The White House basically said it's an issue that can't be avoided. And the leaders really want to come away with some kind of regional plan to confront a possible pandemic.

But Mr. Bush is also trying to make sure that trade is a big issue here, as well. He seemed to learn a lesson at a Latin American summit this month, that agricultural subsidies in place in the US and other countries can really complicate new trade deals, and he wants nations to come to the table and discuss whether those subsidies are really needed, and he wants to use this summit to get those conversations really moving.

MONTAGNE: Now this summit is not being held in Seoul, South Korea's capital. You're down in a city quite far to the south. Why did South Korea's President Roh decide to host the summit there?

GREENE: Well, indeed, we're in South Korea's second-largest city, Busan. It's a gritty manufacturing port that has a few million people in it and it is far to the south. You know, President Roh is from this part of South Korea, and this seems to be his chance to show it off to the world and at least give it some attention. He's always been known for beating the odds. He comes from a gritty part of the country. He didn't have an elite education. He went to school in Busan and studied and passed the bar on his own. He was a human rights and labor rights lawyer before coming into politics. He even survived an impeachment. So he's coming to his part of the country. He's being seen as a lame duck by some in the country, but this summit surely gives him a chance for a last hurrah if it's seen as a success.

MONTAGNE: And, David, it seems the war in Iraq follows President Bush wherever he goes, and, today, there in South Korea, he responded to Vice President Dick Cheney's attack against the war's critics.

GREENE: He did. It was the first question that he got at the news conference with President Roh. A reporter asked if President Bush agreed with Vice President Cheney, who said in a speech in Washington that it was reprehensible for Democrats to suggest that the president deliberately misled Americans as he made the case for war in Iraq. Mr. Bush seemed eager to respond, though, and eager to lend his voice to what the vice president had said. Mr. Bush called his Democratic critics irresponsible, and that's something he's been saying for a number of days now, and this is all part of a White House plan.

One of the president's top advisers, Dan Bartlett, came back and talked to a lot of the reporters who are traveling here with the president and he said they're engaged in a sustained counterattack. And polls show a majority of Americans think the president did mislead the American people. So whatever the White House says, they face an uphill battle right now.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Pleasure, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's David Greene with the president in South Korea.

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