Bush offers North Korea peace deal, scolds Burma

United States President George Bush said on Friday the United States would be willing to consider a formal peace treaty with North Korea if it gave up its nuclear weapons programme.

”We’re looking forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will happen when Kim Jong-il verifiably dismantles his weapons programme,” Bush told reporters after meeting South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun as Asia-Pacific leaders gathered for a summit in Australia.

”If you could be a little clearer,” Roh urged the president after his initial comment.

Bush said he thought he had been as clear as he could be, then said more directly that he was referring to a formal peace agreement. Fighting in the 1950 to 1953 Korean War was halted with an inclusive truce.

Bush said he was ”optimistic” about the progress of the effort to get North Korea to give up its weapons, but said there was still more work to be done.

While Bush was circumspect about North Korea, which has one of the most repressive regimes in the world, the president was less reticent about political freedom elsewhere in Asia, urging China and Russia to be more open and rebuking Burma for its assault on political activists.

Olympic freedom

In a speech to business executives, Bush said the eyes of the world would be on Beijing and called on China to allow more freedoms ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games.

”We urge China’s leaders to use this moment to show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance,” said the president a day after accepting an invitation from China’s President Hu Jintao to attend the games.

Bush also demanded the immediate release of Burmese activists detained by the army and called on the ruling junta to stop ”assaulting pro-democracy activists”.

On Thursday, hundreds of Buddhist monks held a group of government officials for several hours and torched their cars in anger against the military that rules the impoverished south-east Asian country.

Beijing shuns interference in the domestic affairs of other countries, but China welcomed international efforts to help the situation in Burma as long as it was done with a ”constructive attitude and on the basis of mutual respect”, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao.

South-east Asian leaders will discuss Burma with Bush at lunch on Friday, said a spokesperson for Thailand’s prime minister.

Hours before talks with President Vladimir Putin, Bush said the United States would encourage Russian leaders ”to respect the checks and balances that are essential to democracy”.

Russians are coming

Putin, vying with the United States and China to be a part of the booming Asia-Pacific region, signed a deal on Friday to buy uranium from Australia to power its civilian nuclear power plants.

Australia holds 40% of the world’s reserves, but only agreed to sell uranium to Moscow after guarantees it would not be resold to Iran or Syria. Russia has close ties with both states.

Putin visited Indonesia on Thursday in a clear sign of his commitment to turn Moscow’s face to Asia, signing a $1-billion deal to sell Russian tanks, helicopters and submarines.

Russia has now become the largest weapons supplier in Asia.

Putin and Bush were expected to talk later in the day about US missile defence plans in Europe, the most recent irritant to their relations.

Bush also said he was ready to show flexibility to jump-start world trade talks, but intransigence by just a handful of countries could bring negotiations to a standstill.

Bush has made accelerating the Doha trade talks a top priority at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting.

The talks, which started in 2001, have been bogged down by divisions between developed and developing nations over farm subsidies and industrial tariffs.

Apec economies account for almost half of global trade and nearly 60% of the world’s gross domestic product, and a collapse of the Doha round could have a chilling effect. – Reuters

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