US president and Japanese prime minister threatened N. Korea With Possibility of New Sanctions

( LatWp ) - President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe threatened North Korea on Friday with the possibility of new sanctions unless it abides by its promise to shut down its nuclear program, while Bush invited senior lawmakers to the White House next week to discuss how to break the stalemate over Iraq war funding.

``We're hoping that the North Korea leader continues to make the right choice for his country,'' Bush said at a joint news conference with Abe at the presidential retreat here. ``But if he should choose not to, we've got a strategy to make sure that the pressure we've initially applied is even greater. That's our plan.''

Bush was also asked about the impasse with Congress over Iraq, with lawmakers planning to send the president a bill next week that would require the beginning of troop reductions. Bush voiced optimism he would eventually receive a bill he feels he can sign, but gave no indication of what kind of restrictions or conditions he might accept in negotiations with Democrats. A meeting was scheduled for Wednesday at the White House.

The president once again made clear there is at least one deal breaker--setting a deadline for pulling out U.S. troops. ``If the Congress wants to test my will as to whether or not I'll accept a timetable for withdrawal, I won't accept one,'' Bush said, indicating a willingness to continue vetoing bills if necessary.

It was another thorny foreign policy problem--how to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program--that dominated the first U.S. summit between Bush and the new Japanese prime minister, a hawkish conservative who is the first Japanese leader born after World War II. Bush got along famously with Abe's more flamboyant predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, and officials on both sides were anxious to get the new relationship off to a good start: Abe brought gifts for Bush's dogs when he came to dinner at the White House on Thursday--tiny pillows with their names inscribed.

But more serious issues intruded. Japanese officials have been unhappy with Washington's recent policy shift, which engineered a new agreement in which North Korea agreed eventually to give up its nuclear weapons program in return for fuel aid and steps to normalizing relations with the United States and Japan.

Japanese skepticism of North Korea's willingness to abide by the plan has been fanned in recent weeks by the failure of Pyongyang to implement its first major requirement--shutting down its main nuclear facility. That was supposed to happen within 60 days of the Feb. 13 deal, but the deadline has been broken by two weeks--owing to a hang-up over resolving a separate dispute over frozen North Korean money at a Macau bank.

In talking with reporters through a translator Friday morning, Abe said he and Bush ``completely see eye to eye'' on North Korea, though his rhetoric seemed much sharper on Pyongyang than Bush. Abe said the North Koreans ``need to respond appropriately on these issues, otherwise we will have to take a tougher response on our side'' and bluntly warned that he is well aware of the ``negotiating ploys'' from Pyongyang.

For his part, Bush evinced continuing strong support of a nuclear deal that has been criticized by hawks in his own party, describing the impasse with North Korea as ``a bump in the road to getting them to honor their agreement.''

Bush said U.S. officials are trying to ``clarify'' for the North Koreans the financial arrangements for retrieving their frozen money, ``so that that will enable them to have no excuse for moving forward.'' As part of an effort to keep the nuclear agreement going, the administration recently reversed its position and permitted the North Koreans to access the money, $25 million, after accusing them of money-laundering.

``Our patience is not unlimited,'' Bush said, though he did not set a timetable for North Korea to comply. The president noted: ``We now have a structure in place to continue to provide a strong message to the North Koreans. We have the capability of more sanctions. We have the capability of convincing other nations to send a clear message.''

One senior administration official, who asked for anonymity so as not to upstage the president, said U.S. officials do not believe the nuclear deal with North Korea is unraveling despite its failure to shut down the reactor. He said ``the North continues to be clear with us that they are committed to this agreement'' and is only trying to sort out the issues over the frozen money first.

The official said there are not major differences between Bush and Abe on the nuclear issue--but said the Japanese prime minister did voice concerns to the president about whether North Korea will provide a full accounting of the Japanese citizens it has abducted. Japanese officials are worried that the United States might take North Korea off its official list of state sponsors of terrorism before there is such an accounting.

"It's his choice to make ultimately, not our choice, as to whether he honors the agreement he agreed to," Bush said of Kim Jong Il's role in negotiations over his country's nuclear weapons program.

The United States and its allies hope that Kim makes "the right choice for his country," Bush said. But, North Korea cannot continue to stall, the president pointed out.

"We've got a strategy to make sure that the pressure we have initially applied is even greater. That's our plan," Bush said.

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