Bush Vows to Work with Allies on N. Korea

President Bush addresses the diplomatic challenge of North Korea's missile tests at a press conference in Chicago, where he vowed to work with allies to pressure the Stalinist nation to abandon its aggressive nuclear weapons program. Don Gonyea talks with Alex Chadwick about the president's remarks.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Chicago today, President Bush said he wants international support for confronting North Korea.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You're watching diplomacy work, not only in North Korea, but in Iran. It's kind of, you know, it's kind of painful, in a way, for some to watch, because it takes a while to get people on the same page. Everybody - not everybody thinks the exact same way we think. There are different words mean different things to different people. And the diplomatic processes can be slow and cumbersome.

CHADWICK: The President was speaking at a news conference at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. And he took questions, both from the White House Press Corps and from local Chicago reporters.

I'm joined by NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

Don, the President got a lot of questions about North Korea. Did you hear him say anything new today?

DON GONYEA reporting:

It was the dominant topic, and there really was not much new in there today. Not anything really new today. He said that the U.S. along with Russia, China, South Korea and Japan, are all working jointly to respond to the threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear weapons program, and that they need to jointly engage North Korea and that it's important to speak with one voice.

You just played that piece of tape, Alex, at the top there. That was the theme. He kept coming back to how difficult diplomacy is, and how it's easier to act unilaterally, but that diplomacy takes a long time. At several points throughout this hour-long news conference he made that point. He said these problems didn't spring up overnight, so they can't be solved overnight. As we just heard, he said diplomacy is painful to watch.

The other thing that he reiterated is that the U.S. cannot get into, he said, trap, the trap of one on one talks with North Korea. The risk there, that North Korea be able to kind of turn the tables to make the U.S. look like - looks like - look like the bad guy, or the problem.

CHADWICK: You know, Don, there are reports now that this North Korean intercontinental missile tested earlier this week, that it was aimed near Hawaii. And the President was asked if the U.S. would have been able to shoot down that long-range missile. What did he say?

GONYEA: He did not give a very specific answer. When pressed, he finally said, well, they had a reasonable chance of success in shooting it down. But he also acknowledged that the U.S. anti-ballistic missile program, this anti-missile defense, is modest and that it is relatively new. So he said he couldn't make an accurate prediction. Though he also turned to that question into - into kind of a pitch to say that is why the U.S. needs to continue working on what has been a controversial anti-missile program.

CHADWICK: There was a question from a local Chicago reporter about, I guess, remarks from a top Illinois Republican who apparently said it would be better for the President to come to Chicago undercover of darkness. That was...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: This is all about the President's low poll numbers. And the reporter, a Chicago reporter, actually quoted an aide to Judy Topinka. She's a Republican gubernatorial hopeful. And we've heard this around the country, how candidates want the President to come to help them raise money, but they're a little reluctant about what it's like being seen with him, given how unpopular he has been. He did say it didn't work. Here I am in daylight. And he did go to a Topinka fundraiser and helped her raise more than a million dollars today.

CHADWICK: After she had said he should come...

GROSS: Oh, yes. It was her aide who said that. So she's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...she's clearly glad to take the money, and presumably pose for the pictures today.

CHADWICK: NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea in Washington.

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