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. Iran, North Korea seen unlikely to follow in Libya's footsteps
WASHINGTON, May 15 (AFP) May 16, 2006
The United States wants Iran and North Korea to follow the Libyan path to redemption by ending their controversial nuclear programs, but Washington has an entirely different kind of battle with the two remaining "Axis of Evil" renegades.

Unlike US-led economic sanctions which seemed to have worked with Libya, there is little talk of any action that could slow Iran's oil exports considering that a supply cut off would deal a big blow for the world, already reeling from high oil prices.

Reclusive and nuclear-armed North Korea also appears unshaken by the years of sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western powers.

In Libya's case, oil appears to be a key factor behind the American decision Monday to restore full diplomatic ties with the North African state in return for abandoning its weapons of mass destruction programs.

"They want American oil companies back into Libya," said Selig Harrison, a nuclear expert at the Washington-based Center for International Policy.

After a 19-year absence, US oil companies last year agreed to terms letting them resume oil and gas production in Libya, an OPEC member.

The companies moved swiftly to stamp their presence after Washington, as an interim step in improving ties with the once pariah state, ended a broad trade embargo imposed on the North African state in 1986.

Another key difference between Libya and North Korea and Iran is that Libya's nuclear program is not nearly as developed as the other two.

"In both countries, the United States is pursuing an active regime change policy, much more seriously than was the case of Libya ... so both of them want nuclear weapons to deter the United States," Harrison said.

Libya, he said, pursued weapons "basically for the glory of" Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who made a turnaround in December 2003 to give up his country's weapons program.

In the case of Iran, the nuclear option appeared inevitable as it faces regional security threats -- Israel's reported nuclear weapons capability and American plans for permanent military bases in Afghanistan, Iraq and Central Asia, he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in announcing Washington's decision Monday to restore full diplomatic ties with Tripoli and take it off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, signalled incentives for Iran and North Korea if they followed Libya's example.

"Just as 2003 marked a turning point for the Libyan people so too could 2006 mark turning points for the peoples of Iran and North Korea," she said.

The top US diplomat said Libya was an "important model" as the international community moved to end the nuclear crises with the Iranian and North Korean regimes -- "changes that could be vital to international peace and security.

"We urge the leadership of Iran and North Korea to make similar strategic decisions that would benefit their citizens," Rice said.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with oil-rich Iran and nuclear-armed North Korea.

It is seeking sanctions from the UN Security Council to act against Iran but has failed to win support.

Against North Korea, the United States was involved in six-nation talks to end its nuclear weapons program but Pyongyang pulled out of the negotiations after Washington imposed financial sanctions on the impoverished Stalinist state.

Jack Mendelsohn, a senior representative in the US arms control and disarmament agency involved in negotiations with the then Soviet Union, said US nuclear dominance was impeding efforts to convince Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs.

"In effect, the United States is the problem. North Korea and Iran, to a certain degree, are responding to our dominance," he said.

"As long as the United States believes and declares that nuclear weapons are indispensable weapons of security and defense and as long as the United States says it will use these weapons when and if and as it sees necessary, it makes it much more difficult to convince other nations not to be interested in acquiring nuclear weapons," he said.

The United States now deploys 5,966 operational strategic nuclear weapons, with some 2,400 on hair-trigger alert ready for launching.

The Bush administration is now planning to restore a large-scale capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons in order to replace, it says, older bombs that it claims are no longer safe or reliable.

The only "realistic immediate goal" is getting North Korea and Iran to freeze -- and not abandon -- their nuclear programs, Harrison said.

"Getting North Korea and Iran to give up their nuclear weapons option completely would have to be linked to progress in the normalization of relations and to phased nuclear disarmament by all concerned at the global and regional level," he said.

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