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Panel Discusses 'Axis of Evil'

The "axis of evil" label that President Bush has repeatedly attributed to Iraq, Iran and North Korea is puzzling observers of U.S. foreign policy and worrying those who fear unilateral U.S. military action could come against these countries. The Washington Atlantic Council research organization gathered a group of panelists Thursday to discuss what it described as dealing with difficult states.

Former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman said North Korea, Iraq and Iran have more in common than just suspected weapons of mass destruction. "They are isolated, they are estranged, and they are in the position of scofflaws who do not accept the norms of their region or the international community at large," he said. "These are the three things that seem to distinguish them most from others."

Panelists agreed that Iraq is the highest of the three on the target list of the Bush administration.

However, German diplomat Eberhard Kolsch said all avenues should be exhausted with Iraq, starting with U.N. weapons inspectors trying to get back into the country, before a military option is considered. "Germans are very wary when it comes to the use of military power and especially the use of military power in a unilateral way," he said.

Alexei Arbatov, a member of the Russian State Duma (Lower House of Reprentatives), said the Bush administration should be considerate of other countries before taking drastic action. "When Americans are insisting on Russian full cooperation on its policy toward Iran, Iraq and North Korea, Russians are asking why should we do that when our interests are involved there and Americans discount them while our interests elsewhere are not being taken seriously by the United States," he said.

Mr. Arbatov says that rather than U.S. threats of military action against the government of Saddam Hussein, he would prefer a sincere attempt to get U.N. inspectors back into Iraq. He says he would also like to see more efforts to support growing democratic movements in Iran.

On the topic of North Korea, the Russian lawmaker said it would be preferable to let South Korea take the lead in the matter and provoke what he calls a "non-explosive" meltdown of the Stalinist regime.

This week, at the Virginia Military Institute, President Bush again cited the threat from what he calls the "axis of evil." He said these nations are bent on unleashing weapons of mass destruction and that the world must confront them.

Vice-President Dick Cheney toured the Middle East in March to discuss the Iraqi threat, but received no firm support for military action against Saddam Hussein from Arab states.