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At Asia Summit, Bush Seeks Consensus on N. Korea

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At Asia Summit, Bush Seeks Consensus on N. Korea

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At Asia Summit, Bush Seeks Consensus on N. Korea

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Bush is attending the Asia Pacific Economic Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam today. But he's also holding separate meetings with a handful of other leaders in attendance. And those talks seem to be about North Korea's nuclear weapons.

The president repeated his message the North Korea can have economic and other incentives if it disarms, but NPR's Don Gonyea reports that the president found different levels of commitment to the diplomatic effort to carry that out.

DON GONYEA: On day two of his first-ever visit to this country, President Bush began a series of one-on-one of meetings with leaders from the region who have been actively involved along with the U.S. in working to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

One was with South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun. It was at the meeting with Mr. Roh that the difficult diplomacy of dealing with North Korea was highlighted. A brief photo op following that session started typically enough. Roh spoke through an interpreter.

President ROH MOO-HYUN (South Korea): (Through translator) The president and I had very satisfactory discussions on this issue, and we had very useful and in-depth discussion on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.

GONYEA: But President Bush's brief remarks were a bit more cryptic. He said of the meeting, quote, "it's a discussion like you'd expect allies to have a discussion."

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I appreciate your commitment to peace. And I appreciate our mutual (unintelligible)

GONYEA: The problem, though, is that South Korea, while concerned about North Korea's nuclear capabilities, feels limited in what it can do. President Bush's goal is to get North Korea's neighbors, which also include China, Japan and Russia, to take a very hard line with Pyongyang. To that end, United Nations sanctions have been approved, but the U.S. is also looking for support for the Proliferation Security Initiative. It's a voluntary international program that calls for ships suspected of transporting weapons of mass destruction to be stopped and searched.

The two Korean nations live under a 50-year-old armistice but are technically still at war, and if the South intercepts a North Korean ship, it could be seen as an act of war and could prompt a military response. So South Korea will not be stopping North Korean ships on the seas.

In a news briefing in Hanoi shortly after that meeting, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow downplayed the differences.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): The president understands political constraints. We've just had an election. He also understands the commitment of the government of South Korea. It's important to work with them to make it possible to move forward.

GONYEA: The other part of Mr. Bush's day in Hanoi dealt with the legacy of the Vietnam War. There are still some 1800 American service member unaccounted for from that war. The president toured the U.S. military's joint POW/MIA Accounting Command Office, whose job it is to track leads dealing with missing U.S. personnel.

Officials say the command identifies the remains of as many six MIAs each month. The president toured the facility. Tables were set up with exhibits and displays. One contained an old helmet and a shoe. There were plaster replicas of actual bones that have been recovered. Mr. Bush did not make any statements before cameras during or after the tour.

Tomorrow he heads to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly know as Saigon. It's a place where there will be more reminders of the war more than 30 years ago. It was the site of the last exodus of American personnel by helicopter from the embassy rooftop at the end of the war.

But the White House is emphasizing this week not that history, but rather how much things have changed, even as more and more people make the comparison between the Vietnam War and the one raging in Iraq today.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Hanoi.

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