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Axis Of Evil Survivors Play By The Same Book

The 2 remaining members of the "axis of evil" continue to play diplomatic hardball.
by Shaun Tandon
Seoul (AFP) Jul 09, 2006
Hours after North Korea defiantly shot seven missiles into the sea last week, Iran said it was postponing talks in Brussels on its nuclear program for fear of hit squads. Rewind to January. Tehran announced it would resume uranium enrichment, ripping up a previous deal, just two months after Pyongyang suspended negotiations on its own nuclear program.

North Korea and Iran, the two survivors of the "axis of evil" denounced by US President George W. Bush in 2002, have turned cycles of delays and provocations into a diplomatic art form.

Whether the far-flung countries have coordinated their approach is a matter of dispute, but both are determined to avoid the fate of the other nation in Bush's "axis of evil" -- Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

"As fellow members of the 'axis of evil,' the lesson they have learned from the Iraqi experience is to look as lethal as possible to avoid invasion by the US," said Peter Beck, Northeast Asia project director at the International Crisis Group.

"At a minimum they are inspired by and learning from each other," he said. "They are coming from the same playbook."

North Korea cited both the 2003 US invasion that overthrew Saddam and Bush's "axis of evil" declaration as reasons for its launch Wednesday of seven missiles, including a new Taepodong-2 believed to be able to hit US soil but which quickly crashed in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

The self-declared nuclear power said the tests, which coincided with US Independence Day, were meant to improve its defenses.

But Pyongyang is without doubt also aware that Washington has begrudgingly budged its position on Tehran since fiery populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in August.

The United States said last month it was joining European-led negotiations with Iran and joined an offer to give the Islamic republic economic incentives to end uranium enrichment activities.

But Iran, whose chief negotiator showed up in Brussels later last week, refused a deadline to respond to the package before the June 15-17 summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Saint Petersburg -- where Tehran and Pyongyang are now set to vie to top the agenda.

North Korea may seem like "a naughty child seeking attention from a parent" but it is also shrewd, said former South African diplomat Jean du Preez.

"The fact is that Iran was center-stage for quite a while and, while you may not agree with it, managed through skillful diplomacy to draw the US to the negotiating table," said Du Preez, now a scholar at the Monterrey Institute for International Studies in California.

"Suddenly North Korea is on the frontburner and Iran is now seeking the attention by threatening not to abide by deadlines," he said. "It's a cat and mouse game."

A few years ago, neither would have craved climbing to the top spot of Bush's "axis of evil." But both are gambling that the United States is so bogged down by the insurgency in Iraq that it will choose diplomatic over military options if they play their cards carefully, analysts said.

North Korea is believed to have sold missiles in the past to Iran, but whether there is further cooperation remains unclear.

An unconfirmed report in the Sankei Shimbun, a conservative Japanese daily, said 10 senior Iranian engineers were in North Korea at the time of the tests for unrelated talks on missiles.

Despite their vastly different ideologies, the governing classes of the communist state and the Islamic republic share an anti-Americanism that has festered for half a century.

North Korea's official media nearly daily castigates the United States over the Korean War, which halted in a 1953 ceasefire that still divides the peninsula.

Also in 1953, a US-backed coup toppled Iran's nationalist prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh and reinstalled the shah -- a formative event for many in the Islamic regime who fought the pro-Western monarch.

North Korean leaders "believe the US is negotiating with Iran because Iran is strong -- Iran has not cowed down to the US and as a result the Iranians have basically won the first round," said Robert Dujarric, a Pyongyang watcher based in Tokyo.

"They see it that if you want to get something from President Bush, you have to look tough, mean and threatening," he said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Japan Has Right To Protect Itself Says Foreign Minister
Tokyo (AFP) Jul 10, 2006
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso Sunday suggested that Japan would have the right to attack North Korea to protect its citizens from a nuclear missile launch by the isolated Stalinist country.

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