President and Secretary of Defense Stay On-Message

Speaking about Iraq and North Korea on Wednesday, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld used very similar language to describe U.S. policies. One thing that appears clear is that the U.S. plans to pursue diplomatic solutions with North Korea.

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The Bush administration is waging war in Iraq at the same it now faces a nuclear confrontation with North Korea. So President Bush met yesterday with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Afterward, all of them expressed hope for Iraq and the Korean peninsula in strikingly similar terms.

NPR's John Hendren reports from the Pentagon.

JOHN HENDREN: On both sides of the Potomac yesterday, the president and the nation's military leaders were on message. Here's President Bush at the White House on North Korea's announcement that it has tested a nuclear bomb.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: And I'll also remind our citizens that we want to make sure that we solve this problem diplomatically. We've got to give every effort to do so.

HENDREN: And here's Secretary Rumsfeld, a few hours later, across the river at the Pentagon.

Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD (U.S. Secretary of Defense): I think that the president is clearly on the right path in marshalling other countries to support an approach to try to leverage world opinion to cause the Korean government to change their direction.

HENDREN: When Mr. Bush acknowledged rising violence in Iraq, he added a positive spin.

President BUSH: A rise in violence has occurred every Ramadan period in the last three years. Attacks and casualties have also increased recently, because our forces are confronting the enemy in Baghdad and in other parts of Iraq.

HENDREN: And so did General Casey.

General GEORGE CASEY (U.S. Commander, Iraq): The situation in Iraq remains difficult and complex. If you add the intensities of Ramadan, and the fact that the new government is just standing up, this makes for a difficult situation that's likely to remain that way for some time.

HENDREN: Here is the president's view of a new study released, by Johns Hopkins University, that says more than 600,000 civilians have died violently since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.

President BUSH: No, I don't consider it a credible report.

HENDREN: And here's General Casey at the Pentagon.

Gen. CASEY: The 650,000 number seems way, way beyond any number that I have seen. I've not seen a number higher than 50,000. And so, I don't give that much credibility at all.

HENDREN: Turning to North Korea, Mr. Bush said it was part of a larger world of danger that includes terror groups eager to use any nuclear technology they can get their hands on.

President BUSH: And when you throw in that, a mix - a nuclear weapon in the hands of a sworn enemy of the United States, you begin to see in an environment that would cause some later on in history to look back and say, how come they couldn't see the problem. What happened to them in the year 2006? Why weren't they able to see the problems now and deal with them before it came to late?

HENDREN: At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld did the same. He noted that today marks the anniversary of the attack that killed 17 sailors on the USS Cole in the year 2000, tying that al-Qaida attack and others to the threat posed by North Korea.

Mr. RUMSFELD: That attack, which was really less than a year before the September 11, 2001 attacks, was a fresh demonstration to the world of the dangers that are posed by violent extremists. Those dangers would be amplified geometrically should terrorists be able to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

HENDREN: While the administration ties terror groups to North Korea, it's prescription for dealing with the Asian nation has been multi-lateral talks rather than armed force.

Dan Poneman, a former national security official and now a non-proliferation expert at the Scowcroft Group, says this remains the most viable path.

Mr. DAN PONEMAN (Non-Proliferation Expert, Scowcroft Group): I think the thing that will ultimately work in the long run is to present the North Koreans with a stark choice, that says if they come into compliance with our expectations - that they give up their nuclear weapons in a verifiable way - they could look to a future of increased trade, cooperation, energy assistance and the like, from the outside world. But if they persists in this defiant path that they are now embarking upon, that they can look only to increased hardship and isolation.

HENDREN: By saying yesterday, that the U.S. will honor its security agreements with South Korea and Japan, President Bush reminded North Korea that an attack on either ally would be treated as an attack on the United States. But the president refused to say whether any other North Korean action would cross a red line and lead the U.S. to take military action.

John Hendren, NPR News, the Pentagon.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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