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Western Press Review: Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program, Sniper's Rifle In Washington

  • Don Hill

Prague, 18 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Substantial Western press commentary concentrates today on revelations that North Korea has an atom-bomb project. Other commentary considers the problem of a serial sniper operating in the vicinity of the U.S. capital Washington.


Much of the commentary speculates on why Kim Jong-Il's regime decided to make known the project it has been pursuing in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States. The "Financial Times" says in an editorial: "Until the secretive regime of Kim Jong-Il clarifies why it told U.S. officials earlier this month that it has been running a clandestine nuclear-weapons program, it is hard to know what to make of the admission, and therefore how to react. Is it an act of contrition, belligerence, or blackmail?"

But, it continues: "the statement from Washington that Pyongyang has at last confirmed U.S. evidence of atomic arms being developed by North Korea is serious in itself. The Bush administration is well aware that it will have to act, though it seems set on doing so peacefully and diplomatically."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" offers an answer to the motive question. "The most optimistic explanation for North Korea's shocking confession that it has been conducting a secret nuclear-weapons program is that it was made as a way of inducing a reluctant Bush administration to engage in serious political negotiations. Pyongyang's communist regime is clearly eager, maybe even desperate, to establish closer ties to the outside world."

The editorial says: "Confronted by a U.S. envoy with evidence of its uranium enrichment, the North may have felt that its belligerent admission might force the negotiations it craves with Washington and perhaps lead to another deal in which it could exchange weapons of mass destruction for an economic bailout. If so, say administration officials, Pyongyang badly miscalculated -- Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly told North Korean officials immediately after their remarkable statement that no such bargain was possible."

It concludes: "The only solution is for Mr. Kim to accept that he must either abandon his weapons programs or lose his foreign lifelines and risk the collapse of his regime. In the coming weeks, it will be crucial that he hear that message consistently, and not just from the United States."


"The Wall Street Journal in Europe" reaches a similar conclusion. In an editorial under the headline "Pyongyang's Nuclear Blackmail," the newspaper calls for a get-tough policy toward North Korea's regime. "The suspicion has to be that the North now wants to sell the same horse twice, this time threatening to build actual bombs unless the U.S., Japan, and South Korea pay an even larger bribe."

"If Mr. Bush's inclusion of the North in his 'axis of evil' means anything, Kim Jong-Il and his government have to learn that their dangerous behavior won't be rewarded. The world's terrorists, and especially Saddam Hussein, will only be emboldened if they see the U.S. appeasing North Korea's blunt attempt to use nuclear weapons to blackmail the world."

It concludes: "In the end, the only sure nonproliferation policy toward regimes like North Korea's is to change the government. We've tried appeasement for a decade and all it's accomplished is to give the dictatorship more time to build a bomb. Now's the opportunity to get serious."


Foreign affairs is by its nature a murky endeavor, "The New York Times" says in an editorial, and the North Korean affair calls for tough, sophisticated maneuvering. "People on both sides of the Iraq debate will use this alarming news to prop up their views. Hawks will say this demonstrates the futility of treaties with megalomaniacal dictators, while doves will say this gives the lie to the administration's argument that Iraq is uniquely dangerous. But the one lesson we should have learned from the murky and frustrating tussle over Iraq is that there is no single approach to foreign affairs. North Korea's weapons pose an acute problem that must be dealt with on its own terms. Tough multilateral diplomacy is the right first step, as Washington understands."

The newspaper concludes: "Because North Korea has now violated solemn international weapons agreements, any new understandings will have to be verified unconditionally and highly intrusively. If there is one analogy appropriate to Iraq, it is this: Keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of dictators who want them requires more than signed agreements."


Britain's "The Independent" takes what "The New York Times" defined as the "dove" stance. "The logic of George Bush's campaign against the axis of evil, never persuasive, is coming apart in his hands."

"The Independent" says: "Where Iraq is threatened with invasion, the forceful deposition of Saddam and U.S. rule, Sean McCormack, [a] White House spokesman, says of North Korea: 'We seek a peaceful resolution of this situation.'"

The editorial asks: "If Saddam is so untrustworthy that the United States believes he can only be disarmed by being deposed, why does the U.S. believe Kim Jong-Il will get rid of his nukes 'in a verifiable manner' when he has gone back on North Korea's promise of nonproliferation given to South Korea, Japan, and the United States itself in 1994?"

It answers, "The truth is that U.S. policy toward North Korea is sensible, while that toward Iraq is not."


Britain's "The Times" takes the most optimistic view of any of the Western press commentaries examined in today's RFE/RL survey. It says in an editorial that North Korea's new forthrightness may open a gate to a genuine interchange. "Pyongyang's owning up may be interpreted as a sign that it is at last looking for genuine dialogue."

The editorial says, "North Korea is clearly a hard case but its unusual admission is in stark contract to its traditional policy of blatant lying." It concludes, "As long as Pyongyang proves it is willing to change, the West would be wise not to disengage when skillful diplomacy could bring rewards."


John Newhouse, a senior fellow at the London-based Center for Defense Information, urges in a commentary in the "Financial Times" that the West adopt a broad and multilateral approach for its response to the North Korea revelation. Newhouse writes: "Mr. Kim now needs help more than he needs missiles. In particular, he wants to create a trade and investment zone with Japan, Russia, China, and South Korea as partners. That is an idea that has been around for a while and may yet acquire a life."

The writer says, "This is where a security system, or forum -- consisting of at least the United States, Japan, Russia, China, and the two Koreas -- acquires relevance."


Henrik Bork, commenting in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," writes that the revelation has "thrown the world into a new state of insecurity."

Bork asks: "Did [U.S. President George W.] Bush really have in mind a long-term plan when he included North Korea in his 'Axis of Evil'? And could the U.S. really get involved in a two-front war to eliminate weapons of mass destruction?"


The Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" says in an editorial that North Korea's regime "does not warrant trust" and "constitutes a latent danger for the entire East Asian region, as well as the whole world. Both South Korea and Japan must ask themselves how much 'sunshine policy' Pyongyang really deserves."


The German "Handelsblatt" editorializes that North Korea is motivated largely by its troubled economy. "Out of sheer desperation the regime introduced economic reforms and began to open up to foreign countries. This is the only chance for the United States and the West. It is solely up to them to undermine this unpredictable atomic power that is so difficult to subdue, and bring it to its knees."


A sniper in the Washington, D.C., area responsible for nine fatal shootings in recent days, has attracted the attention of a number of writers of different genres. Popular American crime-fiction writer Patricia Cornwell says in a commentary in "The New York Times" that sniper-invoked fear could cause people to ruin their own lives.

Cornwell writes: "We don't want to buy gas. We don't want our children going to school. We don't want to shop. We don't want to drive to work. We may deliberate for hours whether we go to the grocery store or pharmacy. These days, we cringe beneath the shadow and roar of every low-flying passenger plane. We worry about opening our mail. At the office, we demand X-ray scanners and other high-tech devices that might detect explosives or anthrax. We decide not to buy that new house or car. Really, we rationalize, we don't need anything right now. New clothes can wait. A dinner out at our favorite restaurant isn't a necessity. In fact, let's not go anywhere. Forget vacation plans or conventions. Forget any activity that might involve travel or expense."

Using "lead poisoning" as a colloquialism for death by bullet, Cornwell applies the term to the poison of fear: "Terrorism. Lead poisoning. We watch the stock market implode. Fear creates fear, and the more we fear, the more we create fear until the day will come -- and it most certainly will -- when we won't need anyone to ruin our lives. We will become perfectly capable of ruining them ourselves."


"The Washington Post" columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. questions the White House's reluctance to endorse a program of registering what is called the "ballistic fingerprints" of weapons to help in tracing bullets found in shootings. "The [Bush] administration's recent twists and turns are well-known. With a sniper on the loose in the Washington area, attention has focused on 'ballistic fingerprinting,' which police say would make it easier to trace bullets back to the funds that fired them. The White House came around to saying it would study the issue only after spokesman Ari Fleisher trotted out the National Rifle Association line."

Dionne writes: "[Fleisher] said supporting ballistic fingerprinting was the same as saying 'that every citizen in the United States should be fingerprinted in order to catch robbers and thieves.' Honest, Ari, I don't mean to pick on you, but fingers rarely kill people unless they are pulling triggers on guns."

(RFE/RLs Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)