North Korea Takes a Nuclear Cue from Iran

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says that North Korea has been emboldened by Iran's progress towards a possible nuclear weapon. If North Korea tests a nuclear weapon successfully, it is not clear how the United States would respond.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The U.S. is trying to put together a united diplomatic effort to confront North Korea. Yesterday, the country said it was getting ready to test a nuclear bomb sometime in the future. John Bolton, the American ambassador to the U.N., says the U.S. is taking the threat seriously.

NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr, says he's noticed a change in the tone of the Bush administration's statements on North Korea.

DANIEL SCHORR: In the tough talking axis of evil days of his first term, President Bush said we will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea. Now that the North Korean government has announced plans for a nuclear weapons test at some unstated time, the Bush administration responds in less strident terms. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls it a very provocative act. It's being immediately referred to the United Nations Security Council, which has introduced a resolution warning of unspecified action if North Korea doesn't act with restraint.

North Korea has clearly been emboldened by the stir that Iran has been able to make with a possible nuclear weapon that lies somewhere in the future. Not even China, North Korea's best friend, has been able to persuade President Kim Jong Il to return to the stalled six party talks in Beijing.

The North Korean government says it needs to test a weapon as a reliable deterrent for protection against the U.S. threat of aggression. What North Korea is really aiming at is not clear. It has several times indicated it wants bilateral talks with the United States, a kind of prestige factor that also animates the Iranian regime.

Presumably, North Korea is also seeking large scale aid for its foundering economy, perhaps saving that for a Kim Jong Il meeting with President Bush. Is the plan for an underground test for real? On July 4, by coincidence - or maybe not - North Korea tested a long range missile, eliciting sharp condemnation from the Security Council, including China. Since then, American spy satellites have detected activity around suspected underground test sites.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that if North Korea exploded a bomb, we'd be living in a somewhat different world. But how the American military would respond to that world, he doesn't say.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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