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Dangers in U.S. approach to N. Korea

From Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy

North Korea has a million-strong army
North Korea has a million-strong army

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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- As the U.S. focuses on a potential conflict with Iraq, some observers fear Washington's contrasting approach to the threat from North Korea is sending a dangerous message to potential rogue nations.

With U.S. spy satellites detecting signs that North Korea is moving nuclear fuel rods out of storage at its Yongbyon reactor, there's a growing chorus of voices arguing that the regime of Kim Jong Il presents a much more immediate danger than Iraq.

In his recent State of the Union address U.S. President George W. Bush said that the U.S. and the world "must learn the lessons of the Korean peninsula and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq."

But the question is: "What are the lessons being learned from the current situation?"

"The North Korean threat is much more advanced, and because they have the ability to deliver ballistic missiles against our allies, either with chemical or biological weapons, and, in the extreme, possibly with a nuclear warhead, that is directly influencing our willingness to consider military options," Jon Wolfsthal of the Carnegie Endowment told CNN.

It is precisely because North Korea poses a greater military threat -- on top of its nuclear program it has a million-strong army and thousands of artillery pieces within range of Seoul -- the Bush administration has conspicuously avoided talking about a military solution.

"You don't bomb a nuclear nation. Saddam Hussein does not have nuclear weapons. North Korea does," Henry Sokolski of the Non-Proliferation Education Policy Center says.

To other adversaries of the United States, that could send a powerful message.

"The message you send is: Go get nuclear weapons in a hurry," Leon Sigal, author of the book "Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea", says.

"This is a policy of proliferation, not non-proliferation. This is going to ensure the North Koreans develop weapons, and continue to sell weapons."

What worries many is other nations absorbing that message and trying to follow the same path.

Such a course could hold enormous and grim implications for future world security.

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