BUSAN, South Korea - Counseling resolve and patience, President Bush is looking for a show of unity among Asian leaders to press North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Among those gathering here for a 21-nation summit are the leaders of the five countries - the United States, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan - negotiating with North Korea for its nuclear disarmament. Bush was meeting Thursday with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun after talks Wednesday in Japan with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that included a call for dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.
South Korea has resisted the tough approach advocated by the Bush administration for ending the impasse with North Korea, opposing the idea of military action if diplomacy fails. South Korea also is cool to the idea of taking the standoff to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
"The tone is different sometimes because, of course, for the people of the Republic of Korea, the demilitarized zone is right at their doorstep," said Mike Green, senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council.
Green said Seoul, the South Korean capital, is as close to the demilitarized zone separating the two countries and to North Korean artillery as the White House is to Dulles International Airport, some 30 miles outside Washington.
"It's very much a clear and present threat for the people," he said.
Green, talking with reporters on Air Force One as it flew to South Korea, said Bush and Roh would discuss ways to strengthen coordination on foreign policy. The objective was to have the pursuit of North-South reconciliation reinforce the disarmament talks, Green said. One proposal calls for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War.
Bush and Roh were to confer in Gyeongju, the ancient capital of Korea.
Bush's eight-day journey to Asia offers him a reprieve from troubles at home, where his approval rating has fallen to the lowest point of his presidency. Unhappiness over the war in Iraq has hurt Bush's popularity and credibility, and Republicans are nervous about how the war and the president's other woes will affect next year's midterm elections.
Roh has been a major supporter of Bush's Iraq policy. South Korea is the third-largest contributor of troops behind the United States and Britain, deploying more than 3,000 soldiers. Like Bush, Roh's domestic approval ratings are down, and his foes call him a lame duck.
Bush flew here for the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, representing 21 countries that account for about half the world's trade. APEC is expected to call for progress at the next round of World Trade Organization talks in Hong Kong next month toward a global trade agreement.
APEC represents "a significant bloc in the WTO membership," said Faryar Shirzad, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. "And so when they speak and lay out an agenda of ambition, it's an agenda that the membership at the WTO takes note of and helps drive the negotiating dynamics in a constructive way."
In addition to the APEC meetings, Bush will hold separate talks with the leaders of Malaysia, Russia and Indonesia before traveling to China on Saturday.
Looking ahead to talks about North Korea, Bush said his objective was to remind his partners that they need to stick together and send a consistent message.
The most recent round of negotiations adjourned Friday with no sign of progress, but it's likely they will resume in Beijing next month or in January. In September, North Korea promised to end its nuclear program in exchange for aid, diplomatic recognition and security guarantees.
North Korea has insisted that it will not make any move until the United States first offers concessions for giving up its nuclear weapons. Washington has refused the demand.
The Pentagon has begun pulling thousands of U.S. troops out of South Korea, where it has maintained a contingent of about 37,000 since the cease-fire amid concerns that the communist North might try to reunite the two Koreas by launching an all-out attack.