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2007/09/07 17:11 KST
(2nd LD) Bush urges N. Korea to verifiably scrap nuclear weapons

By Yoo Cheong-mo
SYDNEY, Sept. 7 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President George W. Bush said Friday that the U.S. would be willing to consider signing a formal peace treaty with North Korea if the communist state gives up its nuclear weapons program.

   Bush stressed that the signing of a Korean Peninsula peace treaty to end the fragile armistice signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War would entirely depend on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, urging Kim to verifiably scrap the North's nuclear weapons.

   The Korean War ended with an armistice between the American-led U.N. command and the alliance of North Korea and China. The accord has never been converted into a peace treaty, technically leaving the peninsula in a state of war.

   The U.S. leader made the remarks during his summit talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun held in Sydney on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit.

   "I can't make it any more clear... We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will happen when Kim Jong-il verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons," Bush told reporters after meeting with Roh.

   Bush said he is "optimistic" about the progress of efforts to get North Korea to give up its weapons, but said there was still more work to be done.

   Mentioning Roh's plan to travel to Pyongyang Oct. 2-4 for summit talks with Kim, Bush asked the South Korean president to deliver his message on denuclearization, war termination and peace treaty to the North Korean leader, according to Roh's aides.

   In response, Roh agreed denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be necessary to conclude a permanent peace treaty, they said. The inter-Korean summit agreement reached at the beginning of August triggered speculation about when and if a four-way summit between the two Koreas, the U.S. and China would take place.

   Friday's Roh-Bush meeting, the eighth South Korea-U.S. summit during Roh's term, lasted over 70 minutes in a "very friendly and warm atmosphere," presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-seon said, noting Bush called Roh his friend during the talks.

   Roh and Bush have said that the settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue would lead to multilateral negotiations on the establishment of a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

   During their previous summit in Vietnam last November, Roh and Bush first exchanged opinions on the signing of a treaty to formally end the Korean War and restore peace on the peninsula. At a recent working-level meeting with U.S. negotiators in Geneva, Pyongyang agreed to declare and dismantle all its nuclear programs by the end of the year.

   Baek Jong-chun, chief secretary to Roh for foreign and security policy, said Roh and Bush also reconfirmed their decision to push their respective legislative bodies to ratify a South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA).

   Seoul and Washington sealed a bilateral FTA deal in late June, but the legislatures of both countries must ratify the agreement before it takes effect.

   "In addition, Bush agreed to support Seoul's push to join Washington's visa-waiver program after Roh thanked the U.S. leader for his relevant efforts. Bush also asked South Korea to persistently back the U.S. in Iraq," said Baek.

   Roh arrived here Thursday night to attend the 15th annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit slated for Saturday and Sunday, along with the heads of state from 20 other APEC members, including the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

   Earlier Friday, Roh agreed with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao to expedite bilateral discussions on a Korean Peninsula peace treaty and a Northeast Asian multilateral security regime after inter-Korean relations further improve and the six-party denuclearization talks show more progress.