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UN Envoy: North Korea Concerned It May Be Next US Target After Iraq - 2003-03-22

A United Nations envoy says North Korea is watching the U.S.-led attack on Iraq with unease, and is concerned about Washington's intentions toward Pyongyang. His comments come as North Korea postpones talks with the South, because of what it says is Seoul's heightened military alert.

Maurice Strong, an aide to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, says North Korean leaders believe they may be Washington's next target, after the U.S.-led military strikes on Iraq.

After leaving Pyongyang on Saturday, Mr. Strong told reporters in Beijing that North Korea is still hoping for a peaceful end to the nuclear standoff that began last October. "Fear, I do not believe, is in their vocabulary. Concern, yes - real determination to seek a peaceful settlement. At the same time, preparation for war, if necessary," he said.

Mr. Strong said he met with "very senior people" in North Korea, but did not divulge their names. He said he detected no signs of military preparation in Pyongyang, but that North Korean officials were deeply concerned about perceived threats to security.

Mr. Strong's four-day trip to Pyongyang was part of a U.N. effort to find a diplomatic solution to the North's nuclear crisis.

His comments were made on the same day North Korea canceled talks scheduled with the South next week. Pyongyang's official news agency Saturday blamed Seoul for putting its military on high alert, calling the move a reckless obstacle to dialogue between the two sides.

South Korea is concerned North Korea might use the U.S. attack on Iraq as a reason to raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Last October, U.S. officials said Pyongyang was secretly developing nuclear weapons, in violation of a 1994 agreement. Washington and its allies halted fuel shipments to Pyongyang in response.

North Korea then moved to re-open nuclear facilities, expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors, and pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pyongyang says it wants direct negotiations with Washington to resolve nuclear tensions, but Washington wants multilateral talks, a condition that North Korea has rejected.