US President George Bush failed to persuade South Korea on Saturday to join a US plan to intercept North Korean ships as he sought to stiffen Asian resolve against Pyongyang's nuclear threat.
Bush met South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe separately, and then jointly, on the margins of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit with an intense focus on North Korea.
"There is no doubt when we work together we can bring peace and stability, and prosperity for our peoples," Bush said as he met the two leaders as part of a week-long Asian trip.
Roh stopped short of complete support for the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative aimed at intercepting North Korean ships. Seoul fears it would lead to armed clashes.
"Although the Republic of Korea is not taking part in the full scope of the PSI, we support principles and goals of the PSI and will fully co-operated in preventing WMD (weapons of mass destruction) materials in the North Korea region," Roh told reporters as Bush sat nearby.
Roh's comments reflected the political sensitivities in Seoul of getting too tough on its volatile northern neighbour.
But, to Bush's satisfaction, Roh vowed to implement "in a faithful manner" enforcement of UN Security Council resolution 1718, which banned trade of goods and transfer of funds to the North that could aid its arms programmes.
White House officials insisted they did not see Roh's statement as a setback and acknowledged he faced political constraints in trying to intercept ships that share the same territorial waters as South Korea.
"We don't view this that somehow South Korea has rejected PSI," White House national security adviser Hadley said.
Bush meets Abe first time
Bush and Abe, in their first face-to-face talks since Abe replaced Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister, agreed to strengthen pursuit of a ballistic missile defence against the threat of North Korean missiles.
Bush sought to gain a friendly relationship with Abe after developing a warm friendship with Koizumi, underlined by their joint visit to Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion earlier this year.
"I told the prime minister he needs to get over to the United States quickly. I'm looking forward to hosting you," Bush said of Abe. The Japanese leader said he was looking forward to visiting the United States next year.
North Korea has agreed to return to talks over its nuclear programmes with the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea but no date has been set and Washington wants Pyongyang to be prepared to take "concrete steps" to show it is serious about abandoning atomic weapons.
Hadley said Bush, Roh and Abe in their joint session discussed the need to use both pressure and incentives to try to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons and the need for co-ordination among them and with China.
"I think there is a sense that while there is patience required, there was also a shared view that we must not let North Korea use the six-party talks as an instrument for delay," he said.
Hadley would not be drawn into discussing what steps North Korea should take, saying it was to be negotiated with US allies.
But he did not disagree that they could include suspension of a
five-megawatt reactor and plutonium reprocessing plant and allowing
international inspectors back into North Korea.
Bush said he was committed to a peaceful resolution of the North Korean problem and repeated US pledges to enter into security arrangements and move forward with new economic incentives should Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.