HONOLULU (East-West Wire, Feb. 14) -- William J. Perry, secretary of defense under the Clinton administration who led a review of U.S.-North Korea policy, said today that North Korea poses an "imminent danger" to the world because it has the capability of producing five to six nuclear bombs by summer.

Perry, speaking at the East-West Center, believes the United States must immediately repair its relations with South Korea and start direct talks with North Korea. The Bush administration is demanding that Pyongyang first stop its nuclear weapons program before any talks begin, but Perry called the demand a "non-starter." "This is unacceptable, not only for U.S. security but for world security," Perry said about North Korean nuclear weapons development. "With North Korea's desperate economic situation, the only thing it has to sell are missiles. Now they could sell nuclear weapons. If they get them, they might sell to the highest bidder, including terrorists. Time is of the essence."

Perry, who serves on the East-West Center's Board of Governors, said North Korea could produce five to six bombs soon by reprocessing spent fuel at its Yongbyon facility, what he called an "imminent danger." But it is also opening facilities that could process new fuel to produce many more bombs in the longer term. He also expects North Korea to again test missiles over Japan.

Perry said there are two distinct factions in North Korea –- one that would open up trade and relations with South Korea and the United States, and the military faction that believes opening up the country would cause the Pyongyang regime to collapse. Perry said the military faction seems to be in control, and as long as that exists, the North will continue to have a nuclear weapons program "no matter what." That flies in the face of assumptions that the threat of nuclear weapons is only a "bargaining chip" in negotiations.

"If the program is not frozen, there will be an irreparable situation. We will have no idea where the nuclear weapons are.

"I expect that this could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Pacific region. This would be a profound security disaster. We have to do everything we can to keep this from happening."

He said "coercive diplomacy" backed up by military force is essential to negotiations and that a "red line" must be drawn that cannot be crossed. In the 1994 agreement with North Korea, during which time Perry served as U.S. secretary of defense, that line was to freeze reprocessing of spent fuel to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for peaceful nuclear facilities and fuel.

But drawing that red line again will require the United States, South Korea and Japan working together, and "I’ve never seen the three countries so far apart."

He said U.S.-South Korea relations have not recovered since President Kim Dae Jung's visit to the United States two years ago. Kim felt the Bush administration had dismissed his Sunshine Policy of opening up to the North. The United States also put its relationship with the North on hold while it reviewed U.S. policy there.

These feelings of alienation have carried over into the new South Korean government, which takes office this month, Perry said. He is concerned that initial contacts between the United States and the new South Korean administration have not gone well. He also said South Korea must shoulder some of the blame for not fully understanding U.S. security concerns.

February 19, 2003

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