There’s a little bit of everything on George W. Bush’s platter as he sweeps through Asia, and though he is graciously received, some of the fare is difficult for regional and European allies to swallow.
He's got Seoul, but not Pyongyang, arriving in South Korea
When the US president on Wednesday visits the demilitarised zone between South and North Korea, he will be easily within artillery range of a country he famously calls "evil". Yet he is apparently confident that Pyongyang’s dark lords will not order a barrage.
For one element in the complicated diplomatic initiative George W. Bush has slowly begun to unveil on his Asian tour – through Japan, South Korea and China – is an offer of re-engagement with North Korea.
Even as he stands by his characterisation of Kim Jong Il’s regime in Pyongyang, he plans to offer North Korea a way out of the "axis of evil" in which he has implicated it, according to South Korea’s state press agency.
A story on the government’s website quoted a South Korean presidential aide, saying, "President Bush will disclose his intention to resume dialogue with Pyongyang at any time, any place and without any preconditions, when he comes to Seoul."
An offer like that could defuse much of the worry Bush’s blustery remarks have lately roused in Asia. South Koreans in particular, officials and citizens, have worried that US threats against the North may undermine the stop-and-go peace initiative the government in Seoul calls its "sunshine policy".
Before his visit, there was widespread public scepticism of Bush’s credentials as a peacemaker for the Koreas, Reuters reported. Many in the South view US policy in light of its high-price arms sales to the country, which is currently pondering a $4 billion outlay for new fighter jets.
But if the South Korean report of an impending Bush offer proves true, it may stem a fresh stream of European criticism springing from his "axis of evil" remarks. Bush responded to the criticism Monday during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Questioned about the French foreign minister’s characterisation of the Bush "axis" idea as "simplistic", the president echoed Secretary of State Colin Powell, calling foreign worries a case of the "vapours".
"Listen, I understand what happens in the international arena; people say things. But the leaders I’ve talked to fully understand, exactly, what needs to happen," Bush said.
"They understand the resolve of the United States of America. They understand that our commitment is not just in Afghanistan, that history has given us a unique opportunity to defend freedom. And we’re going to seize the moment, and do it."
Yet in Berlin, there was new evidence that major U.S. allies are concerned by Bush’s warnings, especially to Iraq. At a meeting between German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Schröder added to the spell of cautious scepticism cast over the weekend by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
"We see no reason to discuss or to start to discuss military action against certain countries," Schröder said. "We think problems should be discussed when they are put on the table."