- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

North Korea is not only belligerent, reclusive and brutally repressive, it also has (according to the regime itself) gone nuclear making for quite a combustible mix. The White House announced late Wednesday that North Korea acknowledged earlier this month it has been secretly pursuing a major nuclear-weapons program for several years.

North Korea made the hair-raising remarks to Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, during his visit to the capital, Pyongyang, from Oct. 3-5. Mr. Kelly confronted North Korean officials with U.S. intelligence indicating the regime was conducting a secret project. The officials initially denied North Korea was developing such a project. But the following day, they defiantly said North Korea had been developing a nuclear program, adding, cryptically, that they had "more powerful things" as well, hinting, apparently, at a chemical and biological arsenal. The White House declined to specify whether North Korea claimed to have produced a nuclear weapon or whether U.S. intelligence suggests the regime has such a weapon.

No wonder President Bush described the revelation as "troubling, sobering news." During his State of the Union address in the wake of September 11, Mr. Bush characterized North Korea as forming part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and Iran. The regime's confessed nuclear capability gives that characterization a more alarming resonance.

The development of nuclear weapons by North Korea is a clear violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework, by which the regime pledged to halt its missile and nuclear programs, in exchange for two light-water reactors and fuel to run them, funded primarily by the United States, Japan and South Korea. The White House said in March that it would give North Korea $95 million toward building the reactors. In August, a State Department official participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for the reactors, which were slated for completion next year.

North Korea's recent admission indicates that the much-heralded 1994 agreement was ill conceived. North Korea's promises and diplomatic exchanges with the Clinton administration belie a treachery which could endanger global security. The revelation also delegitimizes claims that the Bush administration's tougher posturing toward North Korea undermined nonproliferation efforts. Clearly, those efforts had failed long ago.

North Korea has long been known to sell its military wares to dangerous elements, potentially hostile to America. North Korea is "the world's foremost peddler of ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, and technical expertise," said Undersecretary of State John Bolton in South Korea in September, adding that the regime had exported missile technology to Iran, Syria and Libya. Its potential to sell nuclear exports makes its weapons-peddling a much more serious concern.

The Bush administration is correct in plotting its strategy toward a potentially nuclear-armed North Korea with careful deliberation. North Korea is apparently unwilling to allow any kind of weapons inspections. With America facing multiple global threats, the White House is weighing its options.

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