- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

PYONGYANG, North Korea If President Bush's "axis of evil" has a watering hole for its arms dealers, it is the circular bar on the 44th floor of the Koryo Hotel in Pyong-yang, the most isolated and perhaps the most mysterious of the "axis capitals."
As dusk and the latest electric-power cut shrouds the North Korean capital in socialist gloom, the bar bustles to life, its black-and-yellow, floral-pattern capsule chairs filling up with Iraqis, Somalis, Libyans and other patrons from Middle Eastern and African nations.
This nameless institution, renowned as the meeting place of choice for arms traders in the Far East, buzzes with intrigue, if not necessarily romance, every night.
Wandering past a low-slung plastic-topped table opposite the bar moves a man named Udai, who claims to be from Baghdad. A reporter asks if he's in Pyongyang to purchase arms, missile parts, components anything that would break the arms embargo against his country.
"Maybe, maybe not," he says with a smile. "I come to Korea often but I cannot say why. It's a secret." He quickly returns to a whispered conversation with his Korean companions.
Arms sales are a sensitive subject in Pyongyang. Foreign diplomats in the North Korean capital estimate that each year Pyongyang sells at least $500 million worth of weapons parts, mostly components for short-range missiles and guidance systems, to pariah regimes, often in the Middle East.
As bar patrons down tumblers of Johnny Walker and the local firewater, the discussions around the tables seem somewhat more furtive than Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, recently proclaimed. "Let's just say that the North Koreans have been known to go around with glossy brochures about their ballistic missiles," Miss Rice said. "They are stocking a lot of the world right now."
The country's contribution to international weapons proliferation earned it a place, alongside Iran and Iraq, in the "axis of evil" denounced by Mr. Bush in his State of the Union address in January.
Pyongyang's lucrative arms exports are the result of its tinkering with Scud missiles supplied by the Soviet Union almost two decades ago. Its spare parts and re-engineered launching systems are sent across the Third World on cargo ships that have been chartered for legitimate trade.
Firms that charter ships in Southeast Asia say that North Korea frequently commissions vessels to take a commodity such as sugar from the Far East to Europe, but the boats go missing for days while making unscheduled stops in places such as Libya.
"Every flight into Pyongyang from Beijing carries businessmen from the Middle East and Africa," says a diplomat who is a frequent visitor to the country. "Not all of them are arms dealers, but apart from weapons exports the country doesn't really have much to interest people from that region."

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