- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2001

North Korea yesterday criticized the Bush administration for its tough stand in recent days, setting up a confrontation that analysts said could produce an early test of the new U.S. policy team's resolve.

The two countries now are "eyeball to eyeball," with each side testing the other to see who needs the other more or who will be frightened first, former national security official Douglas Paal said.

North Korea's Radio Pyongyang interrupted regular broadcasts yesterday to warn: "The more that the United States takes uncompromising actions against our country, the more we will be uncompromising toward them.

"If the U.S. imperialist aggressors attack our people, they must be aware that they will have to pay a high price," the announcer added, according to the Radio Press monitoring agency in Tokyo.

North Korea already had canceled scheduled ministerial talks with South Korea without explanation this week.

The Bush administration has cited the threat of a North Korean missile attack on the United States, or on U.S. forces and allies in Asia, as a justification for building a missile defense system.

President Bush himself said last week that he was in no hurry to resume talks with North Korea on its missile development and proliferation. He also said the U.S. government would demand that all agreements with the North be fully verifiable.

The president's critical comments about the communist regime in Pyongyang were a sharp departure from warming relations the North experienced recently with the Clinton administration and with South Korea.

The Bush administration was "provocative and reckless… . This is a blatant challenge," the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun said, according to Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency.

The newspaper added that North Korea "will never allow anyone to violate its pride and dignity and challenge it. If the U.S. imperialists dare turn to confrontation with the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], the army and people of the DPRK will take thousandfold revenge on them."

Mr. Paal, a Republican, said that every new administration is tested by the North Koreans to see how much the communist regime can get out of the U.S. government.

"The North needs the outside more than we need them," he said. "We have deterrence against them. They need food, assistance and international recognition. They will see if they can frighten us like the last administration and see what they can get for it."

But North Korea could respond to the Bush cold shoulder "by starting military adventures over the 38th parallel there is no way to know how far things will escalate," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies.

"They have missiles with chemical and probably biological warheads. We've got 37,000 troops with limited combat capability along the border.

"They can escalate their nuclear weapons program. They can escalate their missiles [production and deployment]. They can fire a couple of rounds over Japan," Mr. Cordesman said. "There's a good range of mischief they can do."

North Korea shocked Japanese officials in 1998 by test-firing a Taepo Dong missile that crossed over Japan before heading over the western Pacific.

Mr. Paal, head of the Asia Pacific Policy Center, said the U.S. policy that emerged during last week's visit to Washington by South Korea's President Kim Dae-jung was not as hard-line as the media made it seem.

"The Bush administration did not take a hard line," Mr. Paal said in an interview. "They supported President Kim [Dae-jung]'s sunshine policy" of trying to engage North Korea.

"They supported inter-Korean dialogue and they supported the KEDO Framework Agreement," he said.

KEDO the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization is using South Korean and Japanese funds to build twin nuclear power plants for the North.

"All they did," Mr. Paal said of Bush administration officials, "is not run breathlessly after North Korea to get them to do what we want them to do."

A former Reagan administration national security official said the shift by the Bush team was badly needed because the North Koreans were blackmailing the United States to obtain food and other aid.

Under the 1994 Framework Agreement, the United States, Japan and South Korea agreed to provide the impoverished North with twin nuclear power plants and fuel oil. In return, the North shut down nuclear facilities believed to have produced enough bomb fuel for one or two nuclear weapons.

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