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Bush says US willing to give N.Korea guarantees
( 2003-10-22 21:13) (Reuters)

US President George W. Bush said on Wednesday the United States and its partners were all willing to sign a document declaring "we won't attack you" so long as North Korea agrees to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

North Korea has dismissed the US offer of multilateral security guarantees as laughable.

"I guess they're trying to stand up to the five nations that are now uniting in convincing North Korea to disarm and my only reaction is we'll continue to send a very clear message to the North Koreans," Bush said in Bali, Indonesia before flying to Australia.

Speaking with reporters later aboard Air Force One, Bush said the United States and its partners in the negotiations were "all willing to sign some sort of document -- not a treaty -- that says, 'We won't attack you.' But he needs to abandon his nuclear program in a verifiable way."

In a commentary published late on Tuesday, the communist North's official KCNA news agency said Pyongyang wanted a bilateral treaty with the United States -- a reference to its desire for a non-aggression pact Washington has ruled out.

During a Bangkok summit of Asia-Pacific leaders that ended on Tuesday, Bush significantly shifted policy by saying he was sharing ideas on how to give North Korea security guarantees short of a non-aggression treaty. All 20 other summit leaders backed this stance.

North Korea was not present because it is not a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. But it lost little time in shooting down the idea.

"We have asked for the United States to stop its hostile policy and a bilateral treaty between North Korea and the United States, and not for some sort of security guarantee," said KCNA in a Korean-language commentary.

"It's laughable and doesn't deserve even any consideration that the United States gives a security guarantee on the condition that we drop our nuclear development."

Bush defended the APEC discussions at a news conference on this Indonesian island, saying: "We had a really good visit at APEC about how best to resolve the North Korean issue peacefully, how best to convince the North Koreans to disarm, at least abandon their nuclear ambitions, nuclear weapons ambitions."

Asked about reports of at least one North Korean short-range missile test during APEC, Bush said that was not helpful, adding in an apparent reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il" "...he wanted to have dialogue. We're having dialogue, and he wanted a security agreement and we're willing to advance a multi-party security agreement, assuming that he is willing to abandon his nuclear weapons designs and programmes."

Bush had some harsh words for Kim Jong-il. "You can't respect anyone who would let his people starve and shrink in size because of malnutrition...It's so sad for the North Korean people.... It is unconscionable that that many people are starving in the 21st century... I feel strongly about failed leadership dashing the hopes of the people."

Bush said Washington and its partners "will stay the course" despite Pyongyang's response.

South Korea and the United States joined China, Japan and Russia in an inconclusive first round of talks with North Korea on its nuclear ambitions in Beijing in late August. A second round has yet to be arranged, but diplomats expect one to be held next month or at least before the end of the year.

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