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A Hot Ember Left After the Cold War

NORTH Korea has become a country with a host of ``mosts.'' It is the world's most-isolated nation. Its leaders are the most Stalinist in repressing their 22 million people.

Its ``Great Leader,'' Kim Il Sung, has ruled the most years (49) of any 20th-century leader.

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Its economy is perhaps in the most-critical state of any semi-industrialized nation, with per-capita income below $100 a year.. It is the most defiant in opposing pressure from the United Nations to probe its nuclear intentions.

But most of all, North Korea's apparent attempt to build a nuclear bomb is the most critical foreign policy challenge now facing President Clinton.

American lives are on the line as some 36,000 United States troops remain at the Demilitarized Zone on the border of North and South Korea four decades after the 1950-53 war.

The long-turn United States interest in keeping small nations from acquiring nuclear weapons is in jeopardy if North Korea either violates or bolts from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

And all of Asia may be catapulted into an arm's race if the North, then the South, and then Japan go nuclear.

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