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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 23:36 GMT 00:36 UK
US balancing act over Korean weapons
North Korean troops on parade
North Korea spends large amounts on its military

The North Korean revelations have justified the scepticism of hardliners within the Bush administration - just when they could have done without it.

No peaceful nation wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea

State Department official

Sceptics within this administration have always argued that North Korea cannot be trusted.

They have long suspected that the North Koreans have been cheating on the pledge made in 1994 not to develop nuclear weapons.

But instead of a triumphant news conference in Washington - with "I told you so" as the theme - there has been almost silence from the administration.

Double standard?

On the face of it, the latest news out of North Korea, gives some backing to those in the administration who have wider doubts about the worth of international arms agreements.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il says North Korea is harmless
After all, it now appears that just at the time North Korea signed onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1994, it was actually stepping up its nuclear programme.

But the Bush administration tried to soften the impact of the news.

The latest revelations were withheld for 12 days, and then leaked out in the dead of night.

It is clear that President George W Bush does not want another crisis to distract from his focus on Iraq.

But the different approach towards North Korea is bound to produce accusations of a double standard.

Unlike the aggressive stance towards Iraq, the administration is dispatching a diplomatic team to the region.

Under Secretary of State John Bolton and Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will be travelling to the region for talks, according to the US State Department.

"We seek a peaceful resolution of this situation. Everyone in the region has a stake in this issue and no peaceful nation wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea," according to a State Department statement.

Little choice

But almost everyone who has dealt with North Korea also accepts that there is no easy military solution to this problem.

North Korean missile
North Korea has test-fired missiles
In the South Korean capital, Seoul, tens of thousands of American troops are within easy missile range of the north.

Even with conventional weapons, North Korea could inflict almost unimaginable casualties.

Instead, the Bush administration has been reduced to calling on the North Koreans to adhere to the very agreements it has broken.

The US State Department says that North Korea's nuclear weapons programme is a violation of the Agreed Framework as well as under the Non Proliferation Treaty, its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement, and the Joint North-South Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Arms control has shown itself to be both unworkable and indispensable.

The BBC's Ian Pannell
"This is an explosive revelation"
The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Tokyo
"It has come as a real shock to the region"
Nicholas Eberstadt, former US adviser on N Korea
On the difference between North Korea and Iraq

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

See also:

17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 May 02 | Americas
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