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Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 15:55 GMT
North Korea talks up tensions
North Korean soldiers
North Korea has a huge army
The BBC's Barnaby Mason

A real crisis with North Korea is the last thing President George W Bush wants at this stage.

But the leadership of communist North Korea is exploiting Washington's pre-occupation with Iraq to try to maximise its leverage and gain political and economic advantage.

That is the rational side of it.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Mr Rumsfeld has other matters on his mind
For example, a senior foreign ministry official expressed the hope that the UK could help persuade the United States to sign a non-aggression treaty with North Korea.

But there is always a more strident side to North Korea's position, born of long years of dictatorship, isolation - even paranoia.

It is combined with calculation, but can get out of hand.

So the foreign ministry official reacted to fears that the North Koreans were next in America's firing line after Iraq by stressing that they had their own counter-measures.

Pre-emptive attacks were not the exclusive right of the United States, he said.

'Dangerous situation'

North Korea has also issued a not-so-subtle threat by announcing that a nuclear plant capable of making plutonium is being put back into operation.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has described the situation as dangerous and the government in Pyongyang as a terrorist regime.

On the other hand, the State Department repeated on Tuesday that the Bush administration would in due course have direct talks with the North Koreans and intended to resolve the crisis peacefully.

It looks as if the Bush administration does not know quite what to do.

It has made statements about sending military reinforcements to the region as a warning to North Korea not to do anything rash.

But the effect of these deterrent moves is to ratchet up the tension still further -- with the North Koreans now talking of total war.


Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

06 Feb 03 | Asia-Pacific
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