- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Iran and Iraq yesterday mixed hostile rhetoric with moves to address U.S. complaints in the first sign that President Bush's "axis of evil" speech was having a beneficial effect. The third country, North Korea, remained defiant.
Iran pledged yesterday it would not develop nuclear weapons "for any reason" and promised to deploy troops to the Afghan border to block al Qaeda stragglers from crossing. It said those who were caught would be shipped to their home countries.
Iraq, meanwhile, offered to hold talks with the United Nations on its refusal to admit weapons inspectors.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, appearing on Capitol Hill, said neither country's action was sufficient to address American concerns.
Mr. Powell did, however, reassure nervous American allies from Europe to South Korea that no immediate military action was planned against the three countries named in Mr. Bush's State of the Union speech last week.
"It does not mean that we are ready to invade anyone or that we are not willing to engage in dialogue," Mr. Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In an apparent effort to rebut the "evil axis" criticism, Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied U.S. accusations it had helped al Qaeda forces to flee from Afghanistan and sought to destabilize the interim government of Hamid Karzai in Kabul.
"Instead of waging negative propaganda, the Americans had better give us any information they have so that we go after them and keep them out of Iran," Mr. Kharrazi said. He said Iran would seek out "foreigners and particularly Arab fighters."
"We have smashed many rings involved in human smuggling and reinstated visas for Persian Gulf Arab states," he said. "We are also making a lot of arrests, among whom could be members of Taliban or al Qaeda. We will deal with them and hand them over to their respective countries."
Iran's Defense Minister Adm. Ali Shamkhani, speaking separately, said that in order not to harm ties with its neighbors, Iran would not seek nuclear weapons "for any reason." But Adm. Shamkhani told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that Iran would continue to develop its Shahab-3 surface-to-surface missile for defense purposes.
Mr. Kharrazi noted that Iran had long opposed the Taliban regime, which killed 10 Iranian diplomats and journalists in 1998.
While his comments were the most conciliatory since Mr. Bush's address, he belongs to the reform wing of the government, which has little power over the military and intelligence services controlled by hard-liners loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iraq also tried to escape the axis label by offering, through Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, to restart talks on weapons inspections without any special conditions, the United Nations said in a statement yesterday.
Iraq has been under U.N. sanctions since it invaded Kuwait in 1990. The sanctions cannot be lifted unless U.N inspectors verify that Baghdad has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Powell yesterday responded by saying: "It should be a very short discussion. The inspectors have to go back in under our terms under no one else's terms.
"Under the terms of the Security Council resolution, the burden is upon this evil regime to demonstrate to the world that they are not doing the kinds of things we suspect them of."
North Korea remained defiant and made no offers to comply with U.S. demands that it allow inspection of its missile and nuclear programs or withdraw its conventional forces from the border with South Korea. The North is also selling missile and other technology to Iran and other countries that support terrorism, U.S. officials say.
The designation of North Korea as part of the axis of evil was "little short of declaring a war," said the North's official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun.
Mr. Bush "openly revealed his dangerous design to seize North Korea by force of arms, groundlessly linking it with terrorism," said the Rodong article, which was carried by the North's state-run news agency, KCNA, and monitored in Seoul.
South Korea's President Kim Dae-jung, shaken by the Bush administration's refusal to continue the Clinton administration's warming towards with the North, said reconciliation with the North is needed.
"War should be avoided under any circumstances, for which we must exert our best efforts to promote dialogue and exchanges with North Korea," presidential spokeswoman Park Sun-sook quoted Mr. Kim as telling a group of newly appointed Cabinet members.
Mr. Powell told the Senate panel that North Korea had honored a self-imposed moratorium on the testing of long-range missiles and a 1994 agreement to freeze its nuclear weapons program.
"But nevertheless, their actions have not been responsible, and their people are still starving, and we are helping to feed those people," he said. "So while we are open to dialogue, I see no reason that we should not refer to them by the terms that are appropriate to their conduct and to their behavior."
He acknowledged Tehran's generous pledge of funding for the new Kabul government, but he called Iran a "state sponsor of terrorism."

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