N Korea hits back at Bush's 'evil' tag
By CNN's Joe Havely in
SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea has hit back at U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union address saying it was close to "declaring a war."
The statement was Pyongyang's first official reaction to Bush's speech Tuesday in which he labeled the North, along with Iraq and Iran, as an "axis of evil."
He said the three countries and their "terrorist allies" were both actively seeking weapons of mass destruction, "threatening the peace of the world."
In its reaction to the speech carried Thursday on the official Korean Central News Agency monitored in Seoul, an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman warned, somewhat cryptically: "The option to 'strike' impudently advocated by the U.S. is not its monopoly."
North Korea, he said, "will never tolerate the U.S. reckless attempt to stifle the (North) by force of arms but mercilessly wipe out the aggressors."
Referring to the "axis of evil" remarks, the spokesman said: "This is, in fact, little short of declaring a war against the DPRK."
Bush's comments are being seen as illustrating his determination to take a hard line on dealing with the secretive communist state and its alleged plans to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Echoes of evil
Carrying echoes of both Ronald Reagan's 'Evil Empire' speech in the 1980s and implying similarities with the Axis alliance between Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan in the 1940s, the label is one of the harshest used by a U.S. administration to describe North Korea.
In the past, North Korea, Iraq and Iran have been described as a "rogue states" whose military policy and support of other groups are seen by Washington as a threat to its security.
The United States, Bush said, would not permit "the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
However, White House officials have since sought to clarify that the naming of North Korea, Iraq and Iran does not signify any imminent military action against them.
They say rather it is designed to put them on notice that Washington is keeping them under close surveillance.
Relations between the U.S. and North Korea reached a high point in the final months of the Clinton administration.
That culminated in the visit to Pyongyang by then secretary of state Madeleine Albright, the highest level U.S. official to travel to the North.
Her visit came just a few months after the landmark Pyongyang summit between North and South Korean leaders Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong Il, raising hopes of a final peace deal on the Korean peninsula.
However, the North broke off official contacts with both Seoul and Washington when Bush took office and made known Washington's intention to revert to a tougher line on relations.
Pyongyang meanwhile has toughened its stance on the presence of some 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, which it says are a threat and must be removed if relations are to improve.
Speaking Wednesday U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington was still open to discussions with all three nations despite Bush's apparently harsh rhetoric.
He said the U.S. had for many years been "quite nicely and diplomatically" offering invitations to meet with Iranian, North Korean and Iraqi officials, but those overtures were ultimately rejected.
Talks with North Korea, he added, would only occur if they were willing to discuss their weapons programs and end their support for terrorism.
Iran and Iraq have also both reacted angrily to Bush's speech.
In Tehran the Iranian official news agency IRNA quoted President Mohammad Khatami as saying: "The American president's remarks not only showed that he does not have the ability to learn from history ... but also that U.S. policy is now worse and more unrealistic than under his predecessors."
Iraq meanwhile was even more blunt in its assessment with Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan describing the U.S. president's remarks as "stupid".
Bush's comments have also received a mixed reception from around the world with analysts pointing out that while it may have played well with a domestic audience, his speech contained nothing in terms of a plan, strategy or any other detail on how the U.S. might tackle this perceived threat.
Several critics have added that the grouping together of Iran and Iraq -- two long-standing regional rivals in the Middle East -- with North Korea is simplistic and risks alienating allies in the fragile anti-terror coalition.
Meanwhile others have repeated an often-stated position that it is arrogant for the U.S. -- which itself maintains a massive nuclear arsenal -- to seek to bar other countries from holding similarly powerful weapons.
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