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Bush, at border, calls on Koreas to cooperate

©Associated Press
February 20, 2002

SEOUL, South Korea -- President Bush, emphasizing unity rather than confrontation, said today that a united Korea would bring freedom, prosperity and peace to a communist-ruled North mired in "stagnation and starvation."

The president's branding of North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" has reverberated throughout the region, and with his visit Bush sought to assure South Korea and other allies he is not rushing toward military action.

"No nation should be a prison for its own people," the president said in remarks prepared for delivery at the Dorasan Train Station, a few hundred yards from the Demilitarized Zone separating the democratic South from the North.

"My vision is clear. I see a peninsula that is one day united in commerce and cooperation instead of divided by barbed wire and fear," Bush said. Painting a grim portrait of life in North Korea, the president said, "Korean children should never starve while a massive army is fed."

The train station is the last stop on the South Korean side of the Unification Railway. South Korea completed the project under an agreement to reconnect the peninsula through rail and highway. North Korea has yet to begin construction of the road and railway, making the project in the South a dead end -- and a symbol of North-South relations.

Bush urged North Korea to finish the road and unite with the South.

"Traveling south on that road, the people of the North would see, not a threat, but a miracle of peace and development," the president said.

"The people of the North would see more than physical wealth; they would see the creativity and spiritual freedom represented here today. They would see a great, hopeful alternative to stagnation and starvation," he said.

Bush's description of North Korea has caused unease in Asia. The president turned aside reporters' questions about it as he sat down with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung at the Blue House, the official residence named for its ceramic roof tiles.

After their talks, the two were heading to the DMZ, the 21/2-mile-wide, 151-mile-long border strewn with mines and guarded by a total of nearly 2-million troops on the two sides. The United States has stationed 37,000 troops in South Korea.

"People on both sides of this border want to live in freedom and dignity, without the threat of violence and famine and war," Bush said. "I hope that one day soon this hope will be realized."

The text of Bush's address to be delivered near the DMZ did not mention the "axis of evil" label he slapped on North Korea, Iran and Iraq during his State of the Union address.

Adviser Karen Hughes denied that Bush was backing off his statement and said that he would forcefully reiterate his contention that North Korea is one of the world's most dangerous and repressive regimes.

"We seek a region in which demilitarized zones and missile batteries no longer separate people with a common heritage and a common future," Bush said Tuesday.

In a gesture of comity, the president intended to offer unconditional talks to North Korea.

The day's events were designed to ease concerns among U.S. allies, including some South Koreans, that America is moving toward a military clash with North Korea.

Bush's warnings clashed with the policies of Kim, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for a four-year quest to soften relations with his northern neighbor. The South Korean leader believes that gestures of friendship can ease tensions on the peninsula and reduce the prospects for war.

North Korea accused Bush of war mongering.

"If the U.S. imperialists and Japanese reactionaries should provoke the second Korean War, to the end our military and people will attack them with 100 times to 1,000 times of revenge," Radio Pyongyang said in a commentary monitored in Tokyo.

The president was bringing to the DMZ a satellite photo of nighttime light on the Korean peninsula, showing the highly developed South awash in blots of light and only two or three pinpricks of white in the North, the largest in the Pyongyang capital.

Bush sees the photo as proof of the "light and opportunity that comes with freedom and the dark that comes with a regime that's repressive and holds its own people back," Hughes said.

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