US Envoy Calls N. Korea World's
Top Missile Peddler

By Martin Nesirky

SEOUL (Reuters) - The top U.S. arms negotiator branded North Korea as the world's foremost peddler of ballistic missile technology on Thursday and said the communist state needed drastic reforms to survive.
In a major policy speech, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton also said President Bush's description of North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran was "factually correct" rather than a mere rhetorical flourish.
Bolton gave a detailed account of what he said was North Korea's active program to develop weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological and nuclear arms. He described North Korea as an "evil regime armed to the teeth."
He also sharply criticized North Korea's leadership under Kim Jong-il but underscored Washington's readiness to start talks with North Korea.
"In addition to its disturbing weapons of mass destruction activities, North Korea also is the world's foremost peddler of ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials and technical expertise," he said.
Bush first used the phrase "axis of evil" in January to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea, which he said ran programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.
"President Bush's use of the term 'axis of evil' to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea was more than a rhetorical flourish -- it was factually correct," Bolton said in his speech to members of the Korean-American Association at a central Seoul hotel.
"First, the characteristics of the three countries' leadership are much the same: the leaders feel only they are important, not the people. Indeed, in North Korea, the people can starve as long as the leadership is well fed," he said.
"Second, there is a hard connection between these regimes -- an 'axis' along which flow dangerous weapons and dangerous technology."
He said there were some hopeful signs of potential change in North Korea but it was not clear whether those economic steps stemmed form desperation or inspiration.
"Without sweeping restructuring to transform itself and its relations with the world, the North's survival is in doubt," he said.
Bolton's remarks, in the South Korean capital, came at a sensitive time for diplomacy on the peninsula and were signaled by press reports from Washington that there were differences in the Bush administration about the tone of his intended speech.
As he spoke, across town at another branch of the same hotel chain North and South Korean negotiators were starting their second day of economic talks that are part of a broader pattern of diplomatic activity involving the North. There have been high-level talks with Russia and Japan in the past week alone.
Washington is watching and weighing these various dialogues warily as it prepares for its own possible talks.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in Tokyo on Wednesday a U.S. envoy would probably be sent to hold talks with the North Korean government.
"We have received a variety of messages from North Korea in recent months and it seems to me that the general thrust is that they would welcome a visit by assistant secretary (James) Kelly," Armitage told a news conference.
Bolton declined to say when Kelly would visit the North.
Asked why he chose to make his comments at such a sensitive time, Bolton paraphrased former U.S. President Gerald Ford, saying: "I think what we are doing today is having a little straight talk among friends."


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