Unfinished business for Bush in 2003
From John King
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Less than a year has passed since President Bush warned the world that the United States would do "what is necessary" to ensure the nation's safety, citing the September 11 terror attacks in his State of the Union speech last January.
As 2002 makes way for a new year, actions inside the nations he termed an "axis of evil" -- Iraq, North Korea and Iran -- have increasingly influenced his administration's foreign policy.
The possibility of a war with Iraq appears to increase with each passing day and with each pointed statement from American and Iraqi officials. And the Pentagon has announced the deployment of additional military machinery and troops to the Persian Gulf region in the coming weeks.
Adding to the tension is international dissatisfaction with Iraq's response to a U.N. inquiry as to whether Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, North Korea seems to be taking steps that could result in reviving its nuclear weapons program. And U.S. officials said this month that Iran has initiated a program that indicates the country may be developing more than a civilian nuclear power plant.
As a result, Bush's next State of the Union speech may sound much like the speech he made 11 months ago, when he coined the "axis" term and accused the three nations of posing an international menace.
Another ongoing challenge for the United States includes the continued pursuit of al Qaeda, the engineers of the horrific September 11 attacks. In his January 29 speech, Bush promised to "hunt down and punish" the organization and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
Al Qaeda no longer has sanctuary in Afghanistan; a quick and massive military assault booted the terrorist organization from the country, and the United States continues underwriting efforts to establish a new government and military in the onetime al Qaeda stronghold.
Yet bin Laden is still believed to be alive. In November, U.S. intelligence officials concluded that the voice on an audiotape recorded several weeks before was "almost certainly" bin Laden's. Meanwhile, recent deadly attacks linked to his group in Indonesia, Kenya and elsewhere illustrate his continued influence.
Iran is also a concern. Earlier this month, the United States accused Iran of "actively working" on a nuclear weapons program at a nuclear power plant project. Satellite images indicated the construction of two massive power plants "are not justified by the needs of Iran's civilian nuclear program," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Iranian officials denied they were working on a nuclear weapons program.
And, just as 2002 was running out, North Korea unilaterally removed safety seals and blocked surveillance cameras placed by the International Atomic Energy Agency at a nuclear power facility at Yongbyon. It then expelled IAEA inspectors and stocked the plant with plutonium fuel rods. Spent rods could be used to create a nuclear weapon.
The United Nations then accused North Korea of violating the Korean War cease-fire agreement by bringing weapons into the Demilitarized Zone that separates it with South Korea.
The Bush administration has refused to enter negotiations with North Korea until it resumes terms of an agreement the two nations forged in 1994. In that pact, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear power facilities in exchange for two US. light water reactors and 500,000 tons of nuclear fuel annually.
That approach may not be the best way to deal with North Korea, said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank that studies economic, government and foreign policy issues.
"I think that the idea that you can simply let that situation fester and demand the North Koreans make good on their nuclear weapons program -- and eliminate it prior to any negotiations -- is not a sustainable policy," O'Hanlon said.
Another analyst says there is a major difference between Iraq and North Korea that requires very different U.S. strategies when dealing with the two nations: oil.
"North Korea does not have the potential economic resources Iraq has in terms of its oil fields," said Brookings analyst Richard Bush. "So that gives us more leverage to work out a peaceful solution."
U.S. strategy regarding North Korea is just the latest example of a hard-line approach that makes other nations uneasy.
The Chinese state media China Daily focused on U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent warning that the United States was ready to fight two major conflicts at once, if necessary.
"This is a hawkish and dangerous warning," the English-language publication said. "It will poison the warming relations between the two sides of the Korean Peninsula."