HANOI – More than 20 nations from both sides of the Pacific Ocean agreed Saturday to denounce North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, but the show of solidarity masked differences over how to shut it down.

President Bush and 20 other world leaders planned to wrap up their three-day summit Sunday with a joint statement condemning North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Regional concerns about North Korea’s intentions increased last month when the reclusive regime tested a nuclear device.

But Bush’s attempt to rally other countries behind his get-tough approach suffered a setback Saturday when South Korea declined to fully participate in an international effort to intercept North Korean ships suspected of transporting nuclear materials.

South Korea has balked at the idea of attempting to board North Korean vessels, although it will not object if other countries do so. Leaders from both countries downplayed the split over tactics.

“We are allies in peace,” Bush said after meeting with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on the sidelines of the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Hanoi.

U.S. officials reiterated their willingness to improve relations with North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program. The conditional U.S. overture includes an offer to formally declare an end to the Korean War, a conflict that technically remains unresolved.

The war, which began in 1950, ended in a truce three years later. Both North and South Korea would like to see a formal end to a standoff that has left each country on a war footing.

“If you get to a point where the North Koreans not only renounce but dismantle nuclear capabilities, we’ve indicated a willingness to talk about a lot of things,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Concerns about North Korea have dominated discussions at the Hanoi summit, but Bush and the other leaders have also pledged cooperation on free trade, anti-terrorism tactics and efforts to deal with AIDS and avian flu.

Bush held a get acquainted session Saturday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who replaced Junichiro Koizumi last month. Koizumi was one of Bush’s closest allies, a bond that grew even stronger last summer when two traveled together Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland.

White House aides said Bush was touched when Abe opened their meeting by giving him a photograph of their two grandfathers playing golf with President Dwight Eisenhower. Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a senator from Connecticut. Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was prime minister of Japan in the late 1950s.

Bush will leave Hanoi for Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, on Sunday after separate meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He’ll stop in Indonesia and Hawaii before returning to Washington late Tuesday.

(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


GRAPHIC (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): BUSH ASIA

AP-NY-11-18-06 1452EST

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