Bush on his North Korea plan: Clinton's "didn't work"

Despite an apparent nuclear test, the president says he's making progress because other nations are involved.

Published October 11, 2006 3:48PM (EDT)

White House press secretary Tony Snow said Tuesday that it was "silly" to ask whether the Bush administration has made any mistakes in dealing with North Korea. George W. Bush didn't go quite that far this morning, but he didn't exactly answer the question, either.

In a Rose Garden press conference, the president said that Americans have to understand that North Korea "has been trying to acquire bombs and weapons for a long period of time." He said that the bilateral approach pursued by the Clinton administration "didn't work."

With North Korea claiming to have tested a nuclear weapon Sunday, can the president really say that his six-party approach is working better? Reporters tried to ask that question at least three different times this morning. The closet Bush came to an answer: "One way to make sure that we're able to achieve our objective [of a nuclear-free North Korea] is to have other people join us in making it clear to North Korea that they share that objective."

"That's what's changed," the president said, with a smile of satisfaction. "It's what's changed over a relatively quick period of time. It used to be that the United States would say that and that would be kind of a stand-alone statement. Now when that statement is said, there are other nations in the neighborhood saying it ... That is a substantial change from the previous times."

Maybe it is, but there's another "substantial change" the president seems unwilling to acknowledge: When Bill Clinton left office, North Korea wasn't claiming to have tested nuclear weapons and threatening war against anyone who does anything about it. It is now.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Bill Clinton George W. Bush North Korea War Room