SYDNEY, Australia &
In an unexpected twist, President Bush's bout of diplomacy in Asia hit a snag in dealings with longtime ally South Korea and drew a conciliatory gesture from "Axis of Evil" member North Korea.
Just hours after Bush suffered an awkward moment on Friday with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun over terms for ending the Korean War, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill announced a breakthrough in efforts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.
North Korea has invited nuclear experts from the United States, China and Russia into the country to survey and recommend ways of disabling all of its atomic facilities by the end of the year, Hill, the chief U.S. envoy to the communist regime, announced Friday. The team will go next week.
Hill called the overture "another significant step toward the de-nuclearization" of the Korean peninsula.
Bush was wrapping up his Asia visit on Saturday, joining Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for breakfast in a glassed-in room on the 31st floor of a hotel overlooking the Opera House on a drizzly morning.
Bush ignored a shouted question about the video tape showing Osama bin Laden for the first time in three years. In the tape, bin Laden tells Americans they should convert to Islam if they want to end the war in Iraq. Later, after meeting alone with Abe, Bush said bin Laden's speech was a reminder of "the dangerous world in which we live."
The president then met with Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono, an anti-terror partner whom Bush thanked "very much for your strength in this struggle against extremists." "You understand firsthand what it means to deal with radicals," the president said.
He was attending a final session of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and then heading home. Activist groups have called for a major demonstration Saturday of about 20,000 protesting Bush, the Iraq war and APEC's pro-business agenda. About 1,000 gathered at a rally Friday, with some scuffling with police near a hotel where some summit delegates are staying.
Bush's weeklong foreign trip started with a surprise visit to Anbar province in Iraq and he returns to a big week in Washington for his Iraq strategy.
Congress comes back from its August recess. A key progress report on Iraq will be delivered by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. And the president is expected to address the nation on whether he will modify his Iraq strategy.
In an unexpected confrontation, Roh publicly challenged Bush during a picture-taking session to pledge support for "a declaration to end the Korean War." That conflict ended in a truce in 1953, not with a peace treaty, so the two sides technically remain at war.
Bush said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has "got to get rid of his (nuclear) weapons in a verifiable fashion" for the United States to agree to sign a peace treaty. Roh told Bush he should "be a bit clearer in your message" and Bush shot back "I can't make it any more clear, Mr. President."
coincidence or design, Hill showed up at a White House press briefing here a few hours later to announce that North Korea appeared to be following through on a promise to rid itself of all nuclear facilities capable of being used for weapons.
"This is the first time we've had real nuclear experts" from the three nuclear states in the six-party talks "go and have a look," Hill said.
Under a deal reached in February after years of 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.
The parties to the agreement include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea as well as the U.S. and North Korea.
"This is an idea the North Koreans came up with," Hill said of the plan to let outside nuclear experts in. He said it was hoped that the full dismantling would be completed by Dec. 31.
Meanwhile, the White House played down the testy exchange between the South Korean president and Bush and said the meeting went smoothly. "There was clearly something lost in translation," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
And despite Roh's challenge for Bush to make a declaration to end the war, the war was not between the United States and the North but between the North and the United Nations, and Bush alone could not end the war with a simple declaration. "As we say, 'all parties involved,' " Johndroe said, when asked about the mechanics of achieving a peace treaty.
In June 1950, the U.N. Security Council, acting on a resolution advanced by the United States, called on its member states to help South Korea repel an invasion by the North.
Bush also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He later told reporters the two leaders talked about missile defense and fishing.
Moscow bitterly opposes a U.S. plan to base an anti-missile radar system in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. Putin has proposed instead that Russia and the United States share a Russian-rented radar station in Azerbaijan and that missiles could be deployed at sea or in nations such as Turkey.
Putin said he and Bush agreed that experts from the two sides should meet again and travel to Azerbaijan.
South Korean leader spars with Bush in ironic twist
SYDNEY, Australia &