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Discovery of N. Korean Missiles Not Surprising, Says US Diplomat - 2002-12-11

A top U.S. diplomat says the discovery of smuggled missiles aboard a North Korean ship is no surprise - and will not change American policy toward the isolated communist state.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says U.S. officials suspected North Korea was trying to smuggle weapons technology to other nations for some time.

He was speaking of a dozen Scud missiles that were found hidden in a load of concrete in a North Korean ship bound for Africa. "It appears that this vessel was carrying Scud missiles for delivery to some country or other and it has been apprehended at sea and what I understand was a perfectly legal manner," said Richard Armitage. "I'm sure there will be more discussion of this in the days to follow."

North Korea makes Scud missiles. Iraq also makes them and fired Scuds at Israel and Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War.

The discovery of the North Korean missile ship comes two months after Washington revealed that Pyongyang has admitted to trying to build nuclear bombs. The weapons program violates several international agreements.

Mr. Armitage is in China to discuss United Nations efforts to force Iraq to give up its weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad agreed to get rid such weapons when it surrendered at the end of the Gulf War, but Washington thinks it still is trying to build them.

Beijing has called for a political solution to the Iraq crisis, and urged Washington to allow U.N. experts to finish their search for Iraq's banned weapons before taking military action.

Mr. Armitage also has visited Japan and South Korea this week. He also will go to Australia to raise support for U.S. policy toward Iraq and its efforts to get North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program.