North Korea a "far more compelling threat" than Iraq: Kerry
WASHINGTON (AFP) May 30, 2004
President George W. Bush's fixation on Iraq has made the United States less safe and allowed North Korea and Iran to pursue efforts to develop nuclear weapons, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said in an interview published Sunday.

"This administration has been almost myopic in its view on Iraq itself, to the exclusion of those things that are necessary to, in fact, make the world safer," the senator from Massachusetts told The New York Times.

"This administration is high on rhetoric and high on ideology and low on actual strategic thinking and truth," Kerry said.

"And the fact is that they have broken alliances across the planet that have served us well for years, they've left our reputation in tatters," he said. "There's no one who deals with the global community who doesn't understand the degree to which we've isolated ourselves, and I think we're less safe because of that."

Kerry said North Korea, Iran and nuclear material in the former Soviet Union posed the most serious threat of putting unconventional weapons into the hands of terror groups.

The Bush administration had put these problems on the back burner, he said, adding that North Korea "was a far more compelling threat in many ways, and it belonged at the top of the agenda."

Kerry told the Times he would have "dealt with them simultaneously" along with Iraq.

"Three and a half years ago, four years ago, we had television cameras and inspectors in Pyongyang," Kerry said. "Today we do not. Three and a half years ago we knew where the fuel rods were. Today we do not.

"We have to be more artful in seeing what they (the North Koreans) see, not just thinking about it from our point of view," he continued. "There are a number of options available to us that could bring people to the table, cooperative, simultaneous steps that could move you down the road."

On nuclear containment in Russia, Kerry said it would be his "top priority."

"When you sit with any expert they'll tell you it's the most serious thing in the world," Kerry said. "Well if it is, why aren't we treating it as if it were?

"There's been a complete inattention. This wasn't even on the agenda of the last meeting of our president and President (Vladimir) Putin."

"I'm going to make it serious. It's going to be the top priority."

On Iraq, Kerry said the situation there was "not Vietnam" but there are "similarities."

"It's never been Vietnam. It's not Vietnam," he said. "But there are growing similarities. Whether or not it becomes that is truly up to this administration and the leadership over the course of the next months."