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Bush's Restraint On N.Korea Raises Hope

By Jong-Heon Lee
Seoul (UPI) Feb 01, 2006
South Korean officials were relieved Wednesday when U.S. President George W. Bush toned down his criticism of North Korea in his State of the Union address.

In the annual policy address before Congress Tuesday, Bush skipped mentioning his policy goals on North Korea's nuclear ambitions, though he condemned Iran for repressing the people, supporting terrorists and seeking nuclear weapons. But Bush just placed North Korea on a list of countries with repressive governments that do not allow freedom and democracy - along with Iran, Syria, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

"At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations," he said. "And we do not forget the other half - in places like Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran - because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom as well."

It was a stark contrast to Bush's earlier addresses in which he severely condemned the North Korean communist regime led by Kim Jong Il.

Four years ago, Bush branded North Korea as part of an "axis of evil," including Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which triggered a furious response from the North. In 2003, he called North Korea an "oppressive regime." A year later, Bush called North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il a "brutal dictator."

North Korea has bristled at any criticism of its "Great Leader," describing it as an effort to overthrow Kim's regime, whose leadership is based on a cult of personality.

In this year's address, Bush did not mention the North's alleged financial illegalities, including counterfeiting of U.S. bills and money-laundering. The United States imposed financial sanctions against the North last September, accusing it of printing and circulating counterfeit U.S. dollars and other illegal activities.

Pyongyang claims the sanctions are part of a U.S. scheme to overthrow its communist regime, and refused to rejoin the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks until the United States lifts the sanctions.

South Korea and the United States have called for the North to return to the six-way talks, stressing the financial issue must be separated from the nuclear talks.

Officials and analysts in Seoul say Bush's restraint indicates Washington's intention to push for a negotiated solution to the North's nuclear standoff.

"President Bush's address shows the United States would place its top nuclear priority on Iran, not North Korea," a Foreign Ministry official said. "This indicates Washington would push for a diplomatic solution of the North Korean nuclear issue," he said.

Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, said he expected North Korea to consider Bush's restraint as a positive sign and is unlikely to respond furiously.

Last week, Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program could be resumed in February.

Ban, who was attending the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, told reporters North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's visit earlier this month to China has turned out very conducive to resuming the six-party talks involving two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

"We have seen some indications that we will have a resumption of the six-party talks in February," Ban told journalists. "North Korea should return to the six-nation talks without any preconditions."

But many experts remain cautious about an early resumption of the nuclear talks as the United States and North Korea are likely to remain at odds over Pyongyang's alleged financial illegalities.

"President Bush's address passed no signs of changes in his tough stance against North Korea," said Kim Sung-han, an analyst at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, a Seoul-based government think tank.

In the address, Bush said "Abroad, our nation is committed to a historic, long-term goal - we seek the end of tyranny in our world."

Choi Sung, a lawmaker of the ruling Uri Party, expressed concerns that Bush's tough rhetoric may impose obstacles to the inter-Korean reconciliation process.

Source: United Press International

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