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North Korea Condemns Bush 'Axis of Evil' Remark - 2002-02-01

North Korea has joined Iraq and Iran in denouncing President George Bush's State of the Union address in which he branded the three countries as an "axis of evil." The communist state's anger against the United States could sour improving relations between North and South Korea.

In a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, North Korea's Foreign Ministry says that President Bush's description of the country as evil amounted to what it called a "hostile" and an "aggressive" stance.

The ministry says Mr. Bush made "undisguised threatening remarks" that were unprecedented for a U.S. president. Pyongyang added that the United States did not have a monopoly on the ability to strike against enemies. It declared that North Korea is perfectly capable of defending itself.

Mr. Bush told Congress Tuesday that his administration believes North Korea, Iraq, and Iran are actively seeking weapons of mass destruction. He said all three countries pose a major threat to world security and warned that time was running out for the United States to counter the danger. But he did not specify what type of action Washington might consider to deal with the issue.

This is not the first time the United States and North Korea have engaged in verbal battles.

After more than 40 years of Cold War hostilities, the United States in 1994 negotiated a deal in which Pyongyang would abandon its nuclear weapons program in return for the construction of light water nuclear reactors.

U.S.-North Korean relations had been generally improving until last January when the in-coming Bush administration suspended talks to conduct a policy review. Seven months ago, the administration offered to resume talks on arms control issues and improving relations on the divided Korean peninsula.

But North Korea rejecting new U.S. conditions on restarting the talks so far have not responded.

Defense analyst Alan Dupont in Sydney says the rising rhetoric now between the United States and the North could badly hamper South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung's efforts to further engage his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Il. South Korea is one of United States' staunchest allies in Asia. "After Kim Dae-jung's breakthrough visit to the North, there were the expectations that the visit had actually changed the dynamics on the Korean peninsula and that Kim Jong Il would reciprocate and of course, he hasn't done so," says Mr. Dupont. "And the reason is partly because he wanted to assess the Bush administration's attitude toward North Korea. He's got the clear message now that there is not going to be a continuation of this rapproachment."

The Seoul government is playing down the significance of Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" reference insisting that dialogue to bring peace to the Korean peninsula is a separate matter from U.S. concerns about terrorism.

A senior government official said Friday that President Kim and President Bush are already working on a package of offers designed to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. He says the package will be unveiled during a summit between the two leaders in Seoul later this month.