U.S. President George W. Bush, speaking at a news conference in Seoul, has reiterated his call for North Korea to make good on its pledge to verifiably de-nuclearize.
Following talks in Seoul, Bush and his South Korean counterpart, President Lee Myung-bak, told a news conference it was time for North Korea to agree to a strong verification mechanism, to prove to the world that it was complying with its promise to end it nuclear program.
Bush called it a "positive step" that North Korea blew up a cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear plant in June. In response to the declaration, the United States lifted some sanctions under its Trading with the Enemy Act.
The next move would be for the United States to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Bush reiterated that this could happen as early as August 12, but he said it all depended on Pyongyang accepting a verification schedule.
Talks with North Korea on the issue involving South Korea, Russia, China, Japan, and the United States continue.
Bush emphasized that Pyongyang still had much to do to allay concerns about its activities:
"I told the [Korean] president I am concerned about North Korea's human rights record," Bush said.
"I am concerned about its uranium-enrichment activities, as well as its nuclear testing and proliferation, its ballistic missile programs, and the best way to approach and answer those concerns is for there to be strong verification measures, and that is where we are in the six-party talks."
The U.S. president said he could not predict what Pyongyang would do, but he stressed that ultimately it was up to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il to decide whether he wanted to bring his country into alignment with the international community.
"If he is off the [state sponsors of terror] list, I want to remind you, they will still be the most sanctioned country in the world," Bush said. "And so, then the fundamental question is: Do they want to continue on and try to change the status? Do they want to change their isolation? Do they want to enter the community of nations? Do they want to be viewed as a peaceful country?"
Bush, who coined the term "axis of evil" in 2002 to describe governments that he accused of helping terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction, said looked forward to the day when the term would become extinct.
"My hope is that the 'axis of evil' list no longer exists," he said. "That's my hope for the sake of peace, and it is my hope for the sake of our children."
The U.S. president, who is due in China on August 8 for the opening of the Olympic Games, said he did not need to use the event as a platform to express his views on human rights. Bush said he had always highlighted the issue throughout his presidency.
"I have been meeting with Chinese leaders now for 7 1/2 years. My message has been the same: 'You should not fear religious people in your society. As a matter of fact, religious people will make your society a better place, that you ought to welcome people being able to express their minds,'" Bush said.
"And to the extent that people aren't able to do that and people aren't able to worship freely is, I think, a mistake, and I explained it to them every single time."
After meeting with U.S. soldiers, Bush is due to travel from South Korea to Thailand, where he is expected to address the suppression of human rights in neighboring Myanmar.