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Senior US Diplomat Discusses Security Issues in Australia

A top American diplomat is in Australia seeking increased Asia-Pacific regional support for U.S. policies.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage discussed security issues in Sydney; including terrorism, Australia's involvement in a possible war on Iraq, and North Korea's nuclear program.

Australia, a staunch ally of the United States, has not ruled out support for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, with or without a U.N. mandate.

No details were provided about Australia's possible military involvement in a Mideast war. But at a news conference in Sydney, Mr. Armitage reiterated the many reasons Washington opposes Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein. "He has used weapons of mass destruction against his enemies in the Iran war and he is used it against his own people," he said. "Finally, he has an affection for terrorism, and from our point of view, and I generally share with many in the international community, an unrequited thirst for more weapons."

The Sydney meeting followed North Korea's announcement that it would revive a Soviet-designed nuclear power plant, which was reportedly being used to develop weapons before it was closed down under a 1994 agreement. The meeting also followed the temporary seizure earlier in the week of a North Korean ship delivering Scud missiles to Yemen.

Mr. Armitage said he was very concerned about North Korea's decision to re-activate its nuclear program, and issued a stern warning to Pyongyang. "I think the message of the stopping of the ship off the Horn of Africa was a very sound and severe message to the North Koreans, that we know what they are doing, we know where they are," he said. "They can run, but they cannot hide."

Mr. Armitage has been touring East Asian capitals to garner support for Washington's policies, and he paid tribute to Australia's efforts to combat terrorism in Southeast Asia.

Prime Minister John Howard recently said he would be prepared to launch pre-emptive military strikes on foreign soil against terrorist attackers, a stance that angered most of Australia's immediate neighbors.

In a newspaper interview published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual leader of a Southeast Asian terror organization, said Australia would be "destroyed instantly" if it made any such strike against a Muslim country.

The Indonesian Muslim cleric said Mr. Howard was an ally of President Bush, whom he called "the worst and most evil in the world," and said Mr. Howard's controversial statement was a "crazy idea."

Abu Bakar Bashir is being questioned by Indonesian police for possible involvement in the bombings of several Indonesian churches two-years ago. His organization is also suspected of carrying out an October bombing that killed 190 people in Bali.