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Analysts Discuss North Korea and Terrorism - 2001-12-03

North Korea has rejected President Bush's call that it allow weapons inspections. A spokesman in Pyongyang also criticized the United States for not removing the North from a U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

But analysts in the United States say North Korea has yet to prove it no longer deserves that designation.

President Bush says, if a country develops weapons of mass destruction to terrorize other nations, it will be held accountable. And he urges North Korea to let weapons inspectors in to verify it is not producing such weapons. He said, "We want North Korea to allow inspectors in to determine whether or not they are. We've had that discussion with North Korea. I've made it very clear to North Korea that, in order for us to have relations with them, that we want to know: are they developing weapons of mass destruction? And they ought to stop proliferating."

President Bush made the comment Monday when asked if Iraq or North Korea could become targets as the war on terrorism moves beyond Afghanistan. International inspectors have been able to check on North Korea's nuclear programs, but there have been no inspections of facilities that may be involved in the production of chemical or biological weapons.

Northeast Asia specialist Balbina Hwang, with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, says North Korea has been a terrorist state for many decades, and a warning was overdue. "It's a warning, I think, that was a long time in coming, and extremely appropriate, especially, given the current circumstances. But frankly," she said, "even without the 9-11 incident, I think this was an issue that was extremely important for the international community, and, unfortunately, was allowed to brew on the back burner."

Korea specialist Bill Drennan says the warning reflects President Bush's skepticism about North Korea's intentions. "This is a nation that remains on the list of states sponsoring terrorism. It's earned a place there. If you go back to the [19]80s, a couple of events seem to have the fingerprints of the current leader, Kim Jong Il, all over them - the 1983 Rangoon bombing, where North Korean agents attempted basically to assassinate the entire executive branch of the Republic of Korea government and came close to succeeding. And then four years later, a couple North Korean agents bombed a [South] Korean airline flight - KAL flight 858 in 1987, killing all on board. "The United States has said that, to be removed from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, North Korea must sign international conventions against terrorism, publicly denounce terrorism, and deport four Japanese Red Army terrorists that it continues to harbor."

North Korea condemned the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. But it opposes the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan. This month, North Korea signed two more United Nations anti-terrorism treaties - meaning Pyongyang has now joined seven of the 12 conventions against terrorism. Mr. Drennan, the director of research at the United States Institute of Peace, says those would be positive steps, if North Korea does what it says. "The proof is in the follow through of course," he said. "It always is with North Korea. In their checkered history, they have signed agreements, international agreements in the past, and not lived up to those agreements."

The executive director of the Mansfield Center for Pacific Affairs in Washington, Gordon Flake, says North Korea may have missed an opportunity in the last two months to prove that it does not sponsor terrorism. "They did come out with a denunciation of terrorism, which was exactly verbatim to the denunciation they gave after the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa two years ago. But many people think it was a day late and a dollar short. They've groused about U.S. troop actions, groused about what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan. Of course, they see this as a kind of precedent for what might happen in Korea as well. And the end result is that it's very difficult to put North Korea clearly in the anti-terrorist camp. And so they're still straddling the fence."

The United States is also concerned about North Korea's foreign missile sales. In his remarks, President Bush called on North Korea to stop its proliferation.

Balbina Hwang calls that a serious problem. "They currently sell untold amounts of arms to all sorts of countries, like Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Cuba," she said. "And it's primarily their only source of hard currency, given that their economy has completely failed, and they have no other goods to trade. And many of these weapons, I'm certain, end up in the hands of terrorists."

Bill Drennan says he has not seen evidence that North Korean weapons have gone to terrorists, but he would not be surprised.