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Saturday, 2 February, 2002, 06:30 GMT
Bush's 'evil axis' comment stirs critics
Iranian men shout anti-US slogans in Tehran
Bush's words have met with angry responses
There is mounting international concern about President George W Bush's grouping together of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil".

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov of Russia, which sees all three as falling within its sphere of influence, questioned whether there was evidence to label the three an "axis of evil".

This is, in fact, little short of declaring a war against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

North Korea Foreign Ministry

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called Mr Bush's comments "a big mistake".

"First of all they (Iran, Iraq and North Korea) are very different from each other," she said.

Mr Bush made the comment during his State of the Union speech, claiming the three countries were developing weapons of mass destruction.

But there have been angry responses from the countries themselves, while several allies of the US have expressed fears that it is preparing to open a new front in its war against terrorism.

1. Iraq: Suspected of wanting to pursue programmes to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons
2. Iran: Listed by US as state sponsor of terrorism. Washington says Tehran plans to develop weapons of mass destruction
3. North Korea: The US's main concern has been missiles and other weapons programmes - and the country's willingness to export sensitive technology

See also:
Detailed clickable map

But Mr Bush did get some backing, when Jordan's King Abdullah said he endorsed "tremendously that view and that position".

Nato's Secretary-General Lord Robertson has warned the US it will have to provide evidence to justify any action against Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Nato gave the US its full support following the 11 September attacks, invoking Article Five of its founding treaty for the first time, which says an attack on one member is an attack on all.

But BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds says that Lord Robertson's comments at the World Economic Forum in New York reflect Nato unease at expanding the war on terror.

President Bush maintained his tough stance on Friday, saying "all the three countries I mentioned are now on notice that we intend to take their development of weapons of mass destruction very seriously".

But he did hold out the prospect of talks with North Korea, saying the US would be "more than happy to enter into a dialogue" if the country made a clear statement of its peaceful intentions.

Allies worried

Mr Bush's bellicose remarks about North Korea, Iran and Iraq have raised concerns in Europe that the war on terrorism may spread in terms of geography and nature.

George Bush making his first State of the Union address
Bush says Iran, Iraq and North Korea support terrorism

Previously, the targets had been shadowy terrorist groups like al-Qaeda led by Osama Bin Laden and their sponsors.

But according to Mr Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the governments of Iran, Iraq and North Korea have now been "put on notice".

Our correspondent says the American attitude is not necessarily in line with those of its allies. South Korea would prefer talks to continue with the North and Iran has been the subject of recent British diplomatic approaches.

The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has said Britain will continue its dialogue with reformists in Iran, while sending what he called "strong messages" to hard-line elements within the government.

Mr Straw was speaking in Washington after holding talks with his American counterpart, Colin Powell.

The European Union also has a policy of engagement with the authorities in Tehran, which the BBC's Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says they have no intention of abandoning.

North Korea has joined Iran and Iraq in condemning Mr Bush's remarks.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman described Mr Bush's State of the Union address as "little short of a declaration of war".

'Moral leprosy'

In a statement from the foreign ministry, Pyongyang said Washington's recent problems were "entirely attributable to the unilateral and self-opinionated foreign policy, political immaturity and moral leprosy of the Bush administration".

The US Central Intelligence Agency has released a report saying that North Korea sold numerous missiles to the Middle East and other areas of tension last year.

According to the report, the hard-line communist state is using the missile trade to fund its nuclear weapons programme.

The BBC's Kevin Kim
"This isn't the first time the US and North Korea have exchanged such comments"
Palestinian National Council member Edward Said
"This is a manufactured threat"
See also:

31 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran lashes out at Bush
30 Jan 02 | Americas
Iran accuses Bush of war-mongering
26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Kim dismisses 'rogue' status
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