South Korean president to meet with US lawmakers


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some Republican lawmakers may find they have more in common with new South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's tough stance on dealing with North Korea's nuclear bombs than with the softening stance of President Bush.

Bush, who once lumped the North into what he called an "axis of evil," and many in Congress have welcomed Lee's election after a decade of South Korea's "sunshine policy" of providing aid without demanding concessions from North Korea.

The United States has praised Lee's insistence that the North's nuclear disarmament be a condition for economic cooperation even as the Bush administration seems more willing to make concessions to find a breakthrough to stalled nuclear talks with the North.

Lee was to meet with lawmakers on Thursday, and then Bush on Friday and Saturday at the Camp David presidential retreat north of Washington.

Some of Bush's fellow Republicans say the administration appears more eager to strike a deal with North Korea before Bush leaves office in January than in making sure the North accounts for claims of a secret uranium nuclear program and allegations that it spread nuclear technology to other countries.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in an interview that his greatest concern is what he described as the State Department's consistent willingness to "lower the bar for the North Koreans."

Royce said he wants to ask Lee whether the South Korean leader will push the United States to take a tougher line on the North.

Six-nation nuclear talks are stalled over whether the North will hand over a promised full declaration of its nuclear efforts in return for concessions. After pushing the North to provide a "complete and correct" declaration, the Bush administration apparently has decided that the declaration's exact contents are less important than an assurance that nuclear negotiators can check up on the North to make sure it told the truth.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another senior Republican scheduled to meet with Lee, said in a letter to fellow lawmakers that Americans cannot be asked to provide aid to the "dictatorial regime in Pyongyang without ironclad guarantees" that protect U.S. interests, Asian and other allies, and U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea and Japan.

"A rush to achieve a quick diplomatic fix with Pyongyang," she wrote, without dealing with questions of proliferation, a secret uranium program and other issues, "is not an agreement that can stand the test of time."

During his trip, Lee also will meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and have lunch with Vice President Dick Cheney.

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