SYDNEY -- The United States would consider a peace treaty with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) if it gave up its nuclear weapons program, US President George W. Bush said on Friday.
US President George W. Bush (R) reaches out to shake hands with South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun during their bilateral meeting in Sydney September 7, 2007. [Reuters]
Bush offered the possibility of a treaty at a meeting with Republic of Korea (ROK) President Roh Moo-hyun that appeared awkward and tense on the eve of the annual gathering of economic leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Bush said he would offer a new "security arrangement" for the Korean Peninsula if DPRK leader Kim Jong-il followed through with promises to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
But Roh seemed concerned the comment did not go far enough in making clear this meant a permanent agreement to replace the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. The truce has left the two Koreas technically at war.
Roh leaned over in his chair to prod Bush to be "a little clearer".
"We're looking forward to the day when we can end the Korean War.
"That will happen when Kim Jong-il verifiably dismantles his weapons program," a visibly annoyed Bush finally said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Roh had raised the issue in a meeting with President Hu Jintao earlier in the day and China had a "positive attitude" toward the prospect of a truce.
But he cautioned the six nations dealing with the DPRK nuclear problem should "take one bite at a time, one step at a time". "Currently the most critical issue is denuclearization," he said.
Wang Fan, director of the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, said Bush's offer marks "a dramatic shift".
"We still remember the negative words the US president had used about the DPRK," he said, noting that the shift reflects the Bush administration's crying need for a breakthrough in the Korean standoff amid diplomatic strains in other regions.
"Bush's remarks may also indicate that Washington has begun to accept Pyongyang as a party it can negotiate with after years of confrontation," he added.
With a summit between Roh and Kim due in September, Bush asked the South Korean leader to urge his counterpart "to adhere to the agreement that he made with us".
Bush said he was "optimistic" about progress to get the DPRK to give up its weapons, but said there was still more work to be done.
Next week, nuclear experts from the US, China and Russia will visit the DPRK to conduct a survey of nuclear facilities to be disabled, US envoy Christopher Hill said on Friday.
Hill, speaking to reporters in Sydney, said the team was going at Pyongyang's invitation to the three nuclear powers involved in six-party talks on denuclearization of the peninsula.
He said the inspections "would mark another important step toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."
Hill, the top US nuclear negotiator, announced in Geneva last week that the DPRK had agreed to fully account for, and disable its, nuclear program by the end of this year.
He said next week's inspection was not likely to be the last. The next phase of the deal calls for a full declaration and disabling of all nuclear facilities in return for 950,000 tons of fuel oil, or the equivalent value in aid.
"Our plan is to get this done by December 31," Hill said of the disabling plan.