Bush Defends Nuclear Talks, But 'All Options on the Table'

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Defending his support for negotiations to resolve the standoff over North Korea's nuclear programs, President Bush reiterated Thursday that "all options, of course, are on the table."

"The best way to solve this problem diplomatically is to work with four other nations who have all agreed in achieving the same goal, and that is a nuclear-free Korean peninsula," he said during a televised news conference.

The president was referring to South Korea, Japan, China and Russia, who together with the U.S. and North Korea have held three rounds of inconclusive talks aimed at ending the dispute.

The Stalinist state has refused since last fall to attend another round of the six-party talks, and last February it declared that its programs had produced nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently raised the possibility of referring North Korea to the U.N. Security Council at some point, and assistant secretary of state for Asia and the Pacific Christopher Hill is visiting the region to discuss what happens next.

Bush has come under fire from critics who say the administration is wasting time while North Korea builds up its arsenal. Some have urged him to accede to a North Korean demand to hold bilateral talks on unresolved issues, such as Pyongyang's desire for a non-aggression pact.

But the president disagreed: "The bilateral approach didn't work," he said. "The man \{Kim Jong-il] said he was going to do something and he didn't do it, for starters."

The Clinton administration in 1994 signed an agreement with North Korea, under which Pyongyang undertook to freeze its nuclear program in return for U.S. fuel aid and the provision by the U.S. and its allies of civilian reactors to supply energy.

The deal collapsed in 2002, after North Korea allegedly admitted violating it by carrying out a covert uranium-enrichment program.

Bush said he felt that a better approach to the bilateral one "would be to include people in the neighborhood ... and it's particularly important to have China involved. China has got a lot of influence in North Korea."

He noted that any decision to take North Korea to the Security Council would need to find agreement among the nations involved in the issue, pointing out that they include two - China and Russia - which have the capacity to veto any council resolution.

The president described Kim Jong-il as "a dangerous person ... a man who starves his people [and who has] huge concentration camps."

Getting a missile defense system up and running was part of a "comprehensive strategy" to deal with him.

"Perhaps Kim Jong-il has got the capacity to launch a weapon," Bush said. "Wouldn't it be nice to be able to shoot it down?"

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow