US President George W. Bush said Wednesday the roles of China, Japan, South Korea and Russia were all critically important to the "breakthrough" achieved this week in the North Korea nuclear disarmament talks. Bush said he "strongly disagreed" with former UN ambassador John Bolton and others who insist that the agreement was a bad deal.
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The actions agreed to by the six parties "will bring us closer to a Korean Peninsula that is free of nuclear weapons," Bush told a news conference.
Bush appeared to draw a contrast between Monday's agreement and the 1994 US-North Korean disarmament pact by noting that this time, in addition to the United States, all of North Korea's key neighbors were involved.
"Perhaps the most significant voice that had been added to the table was China, but the South Korean voice was vital, as were the Japanese and Russian voices, as well," he said.
As a result of these other voices, "we had a breakthrough," Bush said.
Bush had come under strong pressure last year from critics to deemphasize the six-party process and work out a one-on-one deal with North Korea.
"This is good progress," Bush said. "It is a good first step. There's a lot of work to be done to make sure that the commitments made in this agreement become reality. But I believe it's an important step in the right direction."
He noted that within 60 days, North Korea is supposed to shut down and seal all operations at the primary nuclear facilities it has used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
He also pointed out that North Korea has agreed to allow international inspectors to verify Pyongyang's compliance and pledged to disclose all of its nuclear programs as an initial step toward abandoning these programs.
In return, North Korea will receive economic, humanitarian and energy assistance from the other parties to the discussions.
Bolton said Tuesday the agreement rewards North Korea for bad behavior while encouraging Iran to ignore international demands that it roll back its nuclear program and hold out for a better deal.
"I think the agreement is fundamentally flawed," he said.
Bush called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to thank them for their roles in reaching a tentative deal to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
"The president stressed that the six party process has provided a way forward for North Korea, but that North Korea must live up to its commitments," said Gordon Johndroe, Bush's national security spokesman. "The Japanese and South Korean leaders pledged to make sure that North Korea does so."
All three leaders agreed on the importance of closely coordinating on North Korea policies, Johndroe said.
Bush assured Abe of his commitment to resolve the issue of Japanese abductees, and to the overall improvement of human rights conditions in North Korea, Johndroe said. Abe has said his country would not contribute aid to the North until the issue of the abductions of its citizens by North Korea is resolved.