The Bush administration recently revealed that North Korea is operating a nuclear weapons program. The disclosure came just as Washington was aggressively attempting to stop a suspected weapons program in Iraq. Some observers are wondering why the Bush administration is emphasizing a diplomatic approach toward North Korea while threatening military action against Iraq.
Bush administration officials are stressing that they are working with allies and concerned nations to find a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear problem. At the same time, however, President Bush has threatened to use military force against Iraq, with or without United Nations approval, to end Baghdad's pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Despite the different approaches, earlier this year, before the disclosure of Pyongyang's nuclear program, Mr. Bush called Iraq and North Korea, as well as Iran, members of an "axis of evil."
National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice has told CBS television that the situation in Iraq and North Korea are different, and that the diplomatic approach has already been tried with Iraq.
"The international community has tried sanctions, and limited military force, and everything else. Iraq is in a class by itself," Ms. Rice said. "With North Korea, we think we have a chance to make a diplomatic effort work because the North Koreans, unlike the Iraqis who have oil revenues to fuel their programs, the North Koreans have been signaling to everybody that they are in deep economic trouble."
Ms. Rice said the United States cannot adopt what she called a "cookie cutter" policy toward both Iraq and North Korea.
Charles Pena is the senior defense policy analyst for the Washington-based think tank, the Cato Institute. He told VOA the emphasis on diplomacy regarding North Korea does not make sense, since U.S. officials say Pyongyang already possesses nuclear weapons.
"If North Korea already has one (a nuclear weapon), and they have been named as a member of the axis of evil and are guilty of many of the same sins that Iraq is guilty of, the administration ought to change focus," Mr. Pena said. "The fact that they are not changing focus I think demonstrates that there are some flaws and logical inconsistencies in their policy."
Mr. Pena said Iraq, according to the Bush Administration, is still several years away from developing a nuclear weapon.
Reaction in Congress to the Bush Administration's approach toward North Korea has been mixed.
Some lawmakers have expressed concern that they were not informed about North Korea before the vote on authorizing military force against Iraq. Some Democrats say the failure to inform lawmakers about North Korea may have been an attempt to influence the vote on Iraq.
Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CBS that North Korea is more of a threat to the United States than Iraq. The Democrat from Florida pointed out that North Korea is developing long range missiles that could reach the United States and already has nuclear weapons.
"If you put the two, North Korea and Iraq, on the scales and ask the question, which today is the greater threat to the people of the United States of America, I would answer the question North Korea," Senator Graham said. "And I think that needs to be part of the re-balancing of our foreign policy priorities."
Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana disagreed with Senator Graham. He said the Bush administration is correct to emphasize the threat from Iraq because in North Korea, diplomacy has a better chance of working.
"In other words, there is an openness there [in North Korea], the admission of the program, the fact that they're working with Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan, they're somewhat opening up of that relationship, that there might be movement with the Chinese to indicate that they don't want a nuclear power in their neighborhood," Senator Lugar said. "[There are] more promising circumstances than there have been at least with countries surrounding Iraq."
Whatever course the United States takes toward Iraq and North Korea, the recent revelations about the weapons programs in both countries have refocused the world's attention on the issue of nuclear proliferation.