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The varied US spins on 'axis of evil' members

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President Bush's "axis of evil" – Iraq, Iran, and North Korea – may indeed be linked by the evil actions of their respective regimes. But as the Bush administration is learning, each of the three poses a different threat and challenge that requires a separately tailored US response.

With North Korea's dramatic admission that it has been developing a clandestine nuclear weapons development program for several years, it is now clear that at least two of the three "evil axis" members – Iraq and North Korea – are duplicitous and not to be trusted in their denials of charges that they have been making such weapons of mass destruction. As far as the third member, Iran, is concerned, the US would still like a lot more information about its undercover support of terrorism and its pursuit of such weapons.

Though each of the three is a bad actor on the international stage, the US is necessarily handling them differently.

Iraq is in the cross hairs of the US military, threatened by a White House order to launch a preemptive strike if diplomacy fails to make Saddam Hussein honor a string of UN disarmament resolutions. The diplomacy involves getting the UN Security Council to support military action against Iraq if international arms inspectors are barred from finding and ensuring the destruction of the weapons Mr. Hussein claims he does not have.

The polls show continuing US public support for a UN-backed military operation against Iraq, but Mr. Bush faces considerable opposition abroad. However, he is holding firm to his intent. US officials say the recently disclosed North Korean nuclear program reinforces their concerns about the burgeoning clandestine program in Iraq.

Why then, if US diplomacy must be backed by the threat of military force in the case of Iraq, is it not a factor in the case of North Korea? The answer is that Hussein has actually used his weapons of mass destruction against his own people, and has attacked neighboring countries. North Korea, on the other hand, although dangerous and unpredictable, has not unleashed its weapons of that kind, and has lately been making peaceful overtures to South Korea.

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