- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Vice President Dick Cheney launched a personal attack on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il yesterday, calling him an irresponsible leader who “doesn’t take care” of his people as he strives for nuclear-power status for his country.

The comments, in an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live” that was to be aired last night, came as the Bush administration steps up diplomatic pressure to make Pyongyang return to six-party talks on its nuclear ambitions.

The International Herald Tribune reported, meanwhile, that the United States is dispatching 15 Nighthawk stealth fighters to the Korean Peninsula, an action it said was described by North Korea as a prelude to war.

The Pentagon is sending the F-117 stealth fighters to South Korea as part of a rotation of forces for training, the paper said.

But it quoted analyst Kim Tae Hyo at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul as saying the action carried a “political message” for Pyongyang. He called it “a sort of demonstration of U.S. military might.”

Tensions between the United States and North Korea are high because of suspicions that the North is preparing to conduct an underground nuclear test.

The country also has refused to attend a fourth round of six-party talks that were to have taken place last September, blaming its decision on what it calls a “hostile” U.S. attitude.

The other countries in the talks are China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

A Russian delegation returned from Pyongyang this month, saying the North Koreans want the Bush administration to apologize for publicly branding Mr. Kim a “tyrant” and their country “an outpost of tyranny.”

But according to excerpts of the interview, Mr. Cheney made it clear that Pyongyang should not expect any softening of the U.S. tone, let alone an apology.

“I am concerned about it,” Mr. Cheney said of the stalled negotiations, “partly because … Kim Jong-il, who’s the leader of North Korea, is — I would describe as — one of the world’s more irresponsible leaders.”

The vice president accused Mr. Kim of running “a police state” and one of the most heavily militarized societies in the world, while the bulk of the North Korean population live “in abject poverty and stages of malnutrition.”

“He doesn’t take care of his people at all,” Mr. Cheney continued. “And he obviously wants to throw his weight around and become a nuclear power.”

Mr. Cheney called the stalemate with North Korea “a major problem,” but maintained that the Bush administration was working “very hard” to resume the talks.

He said officials in Pyongyang must “understand that they’re not going to have normal relationships with the outside world, in terms of commerce, industry and trade, if they become a nuclear power.”

The vice president also urged China to more aggressively use its clout with Pyongyang to persuade the North to return to the negotiating table.

“The Chinese need to understand that it’s incumbent upon them to be major players here,” Mr. Cheney said.

The remarks appeared to echo comments by Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton in Seoul two years ago, when he called Kim Jong-il a “tyrannical dictator” who has made life “a hellish nightmare” for North Koreans.

In response, North Korean diplomats refused to deal with Mr. Bolton during the talks.

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