U.S.: Main N. Korea threat is proliferation

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

The United States has determined that North Korea's greatest threat is that of a proliferator of missile and nuclear weapons technology to Middle East states.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration does not see Pyongyang's nuclear weapons as an immediate threat to South Korea. But they said North Korea could offer nuclear technology for the production of warheads for its medium- and intermediate-range missiles sold to Middle East clients, Middle East Newsline reported.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea is more of a threat as a global proliferator of weapons technology than as a nuclear aggressor on the Korean Peninsula. He said many of Middle East countries are waiting for North Korean offers of new technology.

"North Korea is the greatest proliferator of missile technology," Rumsfeld said. "It is willing to sell almost anything and a lot of countries are sitting around waiting to buy that type of material."

Officials said such countries as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have been negotiating with North Korea for a range of missile and weapons of mass destruction components and technology. They said U.S. efforts to stop North Korean missile proliferation have been unsuccessful.

For his part, Rumsfeld cited the December seizure by the Spanish navy of a ship bound for Yemen with North Korean Scud missiles. In response to a Yemeni threat to block U.S. military cooperation, Washington ordered that the ship be released and continue to Yemen.

Rumsfeld said Washington and the international community lack the legal basis to seize shipments of missile and WMD components. He said North Korea has taken advantage of loopholes in international arms and export controls. "They're not working very well now," Rumsfeld said.

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