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US Defense Chief: N. Korean on 'Dangerous Course' With Nuke Violations - 2002-12-05


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says North Korea has embarked on what he calls a dangerous path through its violations of nuclear agreements.

Mr. Rumsfeld discussed the situation in North Korea with visiting South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jun. He told reporters they talked about military contingency plans for the Korean peninsula, but he declined to give details.

Mr. Rumsfeld indicated the outcome of the North Korean nuclear issue is uncertain. "And only time will tell what progress or success might be achieved, but there is no question but that the situation in North Korea is very serious," he said. "They have violated several agreements and proceeded on a very dangerous course."

Mr. Rumsfeld's comments follow North Korea's rejection this week of a call by the International Atomic Energy Agency to open its nuclear weapons program to inspections.

In October, the Bush administration said North Korea had admitted to having a secret nuclear weapons program, despite its 1994 agreement to freeze such an effort. Mr. Rumsfeld has said he believes North Korea now has a small number of nuclear devices.

The U.S.-South Korean talks at the Pentagon also covered the status-of-forces agreement governing the American military presence in South Korea.

In South Korea, there have been recent anti-American demonstrations calling for a revision of the agreement. The protests follow a U.S. military court acquittal of two American soldiers whose vehicle killed two South Korean schoolgirls in a road accident.

Many South Koreans think the status-of-forces agreement should be changed to give South Korean courts wider jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. soldiers.

Mr. Rumsfeld expressed deep regret over the deaths of the two girls, and pledged a greater effort to avoid accidents during future military exercises. But he also indicated he did not believe any new changes are needed to the status-of-forces accord.

There are about 37,000 U.S. soldiers in South Korea.