Call for early N. Korea nuke talks
BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and his South Korean counterpart Roh Moo-hyun have issued a call to North Korea for the early resumption of talks aimed at ending the standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
In a joint statement made on the opening day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok on Monday, both leaders urged Pyongyang to respond "positively" to diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.
"The two presidents shared the view that it is desirable to hold the next round of the talks at an early date and to make concrete progress," they said in a joint statement.
"The two presidents also urged North Korea to respond positively to the other parties' diplomatic efforts and to refrain from any action which would exacerbate the situation," according to the statement.
Six-nation talks, involving the U.S. , North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia were held in Beijing in August but despite an initial pledge to meet again, further discussions have not been scheduled.
The prickly issue of North Korea's nuclear ambitions -- as well as the war on terrorism and support for the rebuilding of Iraq -- are high on Bush's agenda for the annual meet of leaders of 21 Pacific Rim economies.
Observers say that so far, Bush seems to be getting his way at the summit. In an initial communiqué issued as the meet got underway Monday summit participants agreed to join forces against terrorist groups.
This is in contrast to the summit's normal focus on economic concerns.
The president is sharing with his fellow APEC leaders some "expanded ideas of the kinds of security assurances that we might be able to offer North Korea that would persuade them that nuclear weapons are not what they should be pursuing," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a conference of business executives held in conjunction with the summit.
Bush and 20 other Pacific Rim leaders ended the two-day summit's opening session by viewing a dazzling procession of Thai royal barges on the Chao Phraya River.
In developments on the financial front ahead of the summit's opening, China has refused to give ground in a currency argument with Washington.
The United States opposes China's policy of keeping its currency deflated compared to the U.S. dollar, making Chinese goods less expensive than American products.
Chinese President Hu Jintao said his government would study ways of floating the yuan but also defended the undervalued currency as being beneficial to Chinese and world trade. (Currency float)
North Korea was also the topic of discussion between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Both leaders said they agreed on the need to "properly" address Pyongyang's scrutiny concerns in a meeting on Monday on the sidelines of the APEC summit.
"We need to pursue a comprehensive solution to resolving the problem, and to realize this, there is a need to properly address North Korea's concerns for a guarantee of security," Koizumi told Putin, a Japanese official told reporters.
"On that basic policy, President Putin said he agreed," he added.
Koizumi told reporters later that "America is not going to invade North Korea. So the question is how to express this guarantee for security."
"I confirmed that we would cooperate to work on this question."
North Korea has demanded bilateral talks with the United States and refused to consider giving up its nuclear program without a nonaggression treaty with the United States.
On Sunday, Bush restated his opposition to a U.S. nonaggression pact with North Korea, while proposing multilateral security assurances if Pyongyang pledges to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
"We will not have a treaty," the president told reporters. "That's off the table. Perhaps there are other ways we can look at -- to say exactly what I said publicly on paper, with our partners' consent."
Bush addressed the issue after a meeting with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- and pitched the idea later to Chinese President Hu Jintao, who will play a key role in the strategy for resuming dialogue with North Korea.
"The president made clear to President Hu that he is prepared to explore ways within the six-party context to address the security concerns that the North Koreans have put on the table," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on ABC's "This Week."
The Bush administration's efforts in talks to persuade North Korea to halt reprocessing of nuclear fuel rods have been stymied in part because of Pyongyang's demands for a nonaggression pact with the United States, a tactic the White House says is virtually nuclear blackmail.
But U.S. officials said Bush hoped to reach agreement with the Chinese president on an approach under which, in exchange for a verifiable end to the North Korea weapons program, the United States and its partners in the talks would agree in writing that their shared goal was a peaceful, non-nuclear Korean peninsula and that no parties to the talks had any hostile intentions toward or plans to attack the North.
-- CNN's John King and Dana Bash contributed to this report.