Bush Says North Korea Won’t Come Off State Sponsor Of Terrorism List Or Axis Of Evil List Until It Takes Further Action

But Bush Praises Destruction Of Reactor

President Bush said he is concerned by North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

North Korea won’t automatically come off the list of state sponsors of terrorism tomorrow, though that is the earliest date that removal could occur, Bush said.

North Korea will remain on that list, and still will be labeled part of the axis of evil, until it takes further good-faith steps in its denuclearization program, Bush said in a joint news conference in Seoul, South Korea, with President Lee Myung-bak.

"They got a lot to do," Bush said. "They got to, like, show us a verification regime that we can trust. This is a step-by-step process."

Bush has no confidence that North Korea ever will surrender its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The communist regime in Pyongyang is led by Kim Jung Il, who once was described by a Connecticut congressman as "a whack job."

"I don’t know whether or not they’re going to give up their weapons," Bush said. "I really don’t know. I don’t think either of us knows [referring to himself and Lee]. I know this: that the six-party talks is the best way to convince them to give up their weapons. I know there’s a framework in place that will make it easier for those of us who care about this issue to work together to send a common message to the North Korea leader: You have a choice to make. You can verifiably do what you say you’re going to do, or you’ll continue to be the most sanctioned regime in the world."

Bush noted that the United States isn’t alone in attempting to prod North Korea to disarm.

"We have put out a step-by-step process to — as a way forward for the North Korean leader." Bush said. "This isn’t a U.S. proposal; this is a five-party proposal. South Korea has been a very integral part of the process, and they will remain an integral part of the process. We’re all at the table together, saying the same thing."

There will be no willingness to trust North Korea to comply, but rather an insistence that it act first before any rewards are supplied, Bush said.

"Part of the step-by-step was to say, okay, if you do the following things like you said you would do, you get off the terrorist list," he said. "That could conceivably happen [tomorrow]. However, it’s going to require action on the leader of North Korea’s part. It just doesn’t automatically happen."

Previously, the United States and others would provide rewards to North Korea if it merely promised to take actions, without its actually doing so, Bush recalled.

"We changed the way it used to be," he said. "It used to be that — okay, we’ll give you something and hope that you end up responding. It’s no longer that way. The six-party talks basically says, you have made a promise; once you fulfill your promise, then something will happen positively. And so I — we’ll see. It’s his [Kim’s] choice to make as to whether or not he gets to come off the list. If he is off the list, I want to remind you, that he’ll still be — they will still be the most sanctioned country in the world."

Bush said whether North Korea gains any further rewards is up to Kim and others running the peninsular nation.

"The fundamental question is, do they want to continue on and try to change the status?" Bush demanded. "Do they want to try to change their isolation? Do they want to enter the community of nations? Do they want to be viewed as a peaceful country? And so there’s a series of steps that we’ve all agreed to, including North Korea, that it’s up to them to — it’s up to them to make the decision as to how they’ll proceed."

Thus far, North Korea has failed to hand over even one of its nuclear weapons, and has not admitted to and accounted for its highly enriched uranium processing program, though the isolated regime has provided data on its plutonium program.

At the same time, Bush complimented North Korea for destroying cooling tower facilities at the Yongbyon reactor.

"I’m pleased that the five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon was destroyed," Bush said. "That’s … the ultimate verification, isn’t it? We could see with our own eyes that the North Korean government did what they said they were going to do. And now the question is, will they continue that type of accountability?"

North Korea still has a long way to go to live up to expectations of the international community, Bush said.

"We’re in the process now of making sure the North Korean government understands they have many more obligations under the six-party talks, and that we will deal with the North Koreans based upon the principle of action for action," he said.

North Korea and its leadership worries Bush.

"I’m concerned about its uranium enrichment activities, as well as its nuclear testing and proliferation, its ballistic missile programs," Bush said.

Here is where he wants to see action out of North Korea, rather than mere promises.

"The best way to approach and answer those concerns is for there to be strong verification measures," Bush said. "And that’s where we are in the six-party talks. And the choice is the leader of North Korea’s to make. We made our choice, five nations bound together saying the same thing. And so we’ll see what his decision is."

Lee said there is no guarantee that North Korea will agree to denuclearize and cease its bellicose practices.

"As for the six-party talks and the prospects for the six-party talks, I think there are many skeptics as to the future of the six-party talks," Lee said. "I think many people around the world look at the behavior of North Korea up until today and they say — and they wonder whether North Korea will faithfully carry out verification. However, we have a difficult opposition, and I think right now is a good time to really praise the leadership of President Bush for dealing with a very difficult opponent.

"What’s most important is, number one is that we must have a denuclearization of North Korea," said Lee. Seoul is a short missile flight away from North Korea.

"I will be patient, I will be consistent, and I will do my best," Lee said through an interpreter. "I have faith and I am confident that we will be able to move on to the verification process and move on to the next phase of that. And we will try our best to make it complete, and I believe that North Korea must faithfully cooperate in the verification process."

But whether North Korea will be cooperative is a separate issue, Lee indicated.

"Regardless of what North Korea has in mind, I believe it’s important for the rest of the members of the six-party talks to continue pursuing our objective," Lee said. "And at times we might have to wait, at times we might [find negotiations] difficult, but we will be consistent."

In 2002, Bush described North Korea as part of an axis of evil, which also included Iran and Iraq.

The president isn’t ready yet to rescind that label that he slapped on the Asian nation, and declined to say when he might do so.

"That’s to be determined," Bush said. "The human rights abuses inside [North Korea] still exist and persist. The North Korean leader has yet to fully verify the extent to which he has had a highly enriched uranium program. There’s still more steps to be done on the plutonium program. So in order to get off the list, the ‘axis of evil’ list, then the North Korean leader is going to have to make certain decisions. And that’s all part of the six-party talks."

Bush said he has no idea when, or whether, Kim will accede to international demands.

"I can’t predict the North Korean leader’s decision-making," Bush said. "I don’t know what he’s going to do. But I do know that the best way to solve this issue is for five other nations to be saying the exact same thing."