North Korea must declare nuclear programs

The United States and South Korea on Saturday demanded North Korea submit its long overdue accounting of its nuclear weapons programs but offered no clues about how long they would be willing to wait for it.

Meeting for the first time at the secluded U.S. presidential retreat, President George W. Bush and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak also warned that once the declaration had been made, the information would have to be verified.

They appeared to back away from a reported proposal under which, according to sources familiar with the matter, Washington would list its concerns about the nuclear programs which Pyongyang would then acknowledge.

Some U.S. conservatives have criticized that idea as giving in to North Korea and aimed at getting a deal before Bush leaves office in early 2009.

"You know, there's all kinds of rumors about what is happening and what's not happening," Bush said at a news joint conference with Lee. "Obviously I'm not going to accept a deal that doesn't advance the interests of the region."

North Korea, which tested a nuclear device in 2006, failed to meet a Dec. 31, 2007 deadline to reveal its nuclear weapons programs, a deal struck with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

"So we'll wait and see what he says, and then we'll make a decision about our obligations, depending upon whether or not we're convinced that there is a solid and full declaration," Bush said.

If Pyongyang makes the statement, the United States is expected to ease some sanctions imposed under the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list and the U.S. Trading With the Enemy Act.


In addition to seeking details about North Korea's nuclear programs, the United States is concerned it may have shared nuclear technology with U.S. political foes like Syria. Bush questioned why the North Korean leader was delaying.

"They may be trying to stall," Bush said. "He's testing the relationship. He's wondering whether or not the five of us will stay unified, and the only thing I know to do is to continue pressing forward within the six-party framework."

However, Bush and Lee did not say how long they were willing to wait for the information. A team of U.S. experts will be in North Korea next week to see if they can make any progress on completing the declaration.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe declined to put a timetable for the declaration and said the administration first wanted to see what the team accomplished.

Lee, the first South Korean president invited to Camp David, also expressed concerns about North Korea's nuclear program. His predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, sometimes frustrated U.S. efforts with his accommodating policies toward Pyongyang.

"We are still waiting for North Korea to declare their full program," he said through a translator. "They should not get away with this temporary measure."

"It's difficult to convince North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons program but it's not impossible," Lee said.

Separately, Bush and Lee agreed during their meeting to keep the current number of U.S. troops in South Korea and Bush said he would ask Congress to permit Seoul to buy the full complement of U.S. military hardware like NATO allies.

The United States has about 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea to help it defend against invasion by the communist North.

Bush also called on Congress to approve a free trade agreement with South Korea, but Democrats who control the House of Representatives and Senate have expressed concerns that it does not provide adequate access to the Korean auto market.

Congress "must reject protectionism, must not turn its back on a friend and ally like Korea, must approve the free trade agreement with Korea this year," Bush said.