Bush begins two days of meetings with South Korean counterpart
US President George W Bush began two days of meetings Friday with his South
Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, expected to focus largely on the effort to
implement a nuclear disarmament agreement with North Korea.
The two leaders held their first meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat outside Washington as the United States was reportedly ready to relax demands about what must be included in a North Korean disclosure of its nuclear activities.
The implementation of the accord has stalled since North Korea failed to meet a deadline at the end of December to submit the declaration.
Pyongyang has balked at US demands that the document include details of its suspected uranium enrichment programme and role in providing nuclear technology to Syria.
North Korea has admitted only to a plutonium-based nuclear programme and has rejected US suspicions that it also had a crude uranium enrichment capability.
US newspapers, citing Bush administration officials, said the United States was set to back off the demands and instead ask North Korea "acknowledge" US concerns over the transfer of nuclear material to Syria.
The compromise is designed to break an impasse in the implementation of the February 2007 disarmament deal that arose from the six-nation talks that included China, Japan, Russia, the United States and two Koreas.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack would not confirm the new US position, but emphasized that the North Korean document would be subjected to "robust verification" and there will be diplomatic consequences if it is dishonest.
If the United States or any other country involved in the six- nation negotiations "detects that the North Koreans have attempted to deceive us or attempt to provide us information which was misleading or in any way false, then there are going to be consequences for that," he said.
After Pyongyang provides the declaration, the United States will begin taking steps to remove North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism and exempt it the Trading with the Enemy Act.
Lee's visit also coincided with South Korea agreeing to resume importing US beef, removing an obstacle to the ratification of a free trade pact between the two countries.
South Korea banned importing the US product in December 2003 after a case of mad cow disease. Member of the US Congress threated to block the trade deal unless Seoul reopened its beef market to American products.
The US Trade Representative's office said Friday that prior to the, South Korea was the third largest market for US beef.
Bush and Lee are expected to hold a press conference at Camp David on Saturday.