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NORTH KOREA - Suspicious Minds, January 2003

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Synopsis of "Suspicious Minds"

Short History: U.S.-North Korea Conflict

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Nuclear Weapons, Military History, Humanitarian Issues




North Korean and American flags 2002 1994 1991 1976 1968 1948

President George W. Bush

President George W. Bush brands North Korea as part of the "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address, January 2002. (White House photo by Eric Draper)
When President George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union address in January 2002, Americans were still reeling from the most devastating terrorist attack ever inside their country. Just four months before, al Qaeda operatives had pulled off the unthinkable. Navigating hijacked planes into the World Trade Center towers, their suicide missions pulverized the New York City skyline, killing thousands. A U.S.-led coalition had already begun retaliation against the Taliban in Afghanistan when Bush delivered his address.

But the world was about to be introduced to a new enemy. In his speech to the nation, Bush condemned an "axis of evil," which he accused of threatening world peace. He pointed fingers at North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, for continuing to build weapons of mass destruction.

The president's words reverberated across the globe. "North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens," the president said. "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us."

South Korean activists stage an anti-U.S. protest prior to a visit by President George W. Bush to Seoul in February 2002. (AP/Wide World Photos)

South Korean activists stage an anti-U.S. protest prior to a visit by President George W. Bush to Seoul in February 2002. (AP/Wide World Photos)

The three newly pegged rogue nations fired back, accusing the United States of "war mongering" and even "moral leprosy." Some U.S. foreign policy experts questioned Bush's harsh rhetoric as well. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the president's reference a "big mistake." Albright cautioned against lumping the three countries together. Each poses unique security risks and diplomatic challenges for the United States, she argued.

In recent years, up until 2002, the main worry about North Korea concerned its missile program and its export of sensitive weapons technology to other countries. As 2002 wore on, however, U.S. intelligence agencies began to suspect an even graver threat -- that for the past two years, North Korea had pursued efforts to enrich uranium for use in building atomic bombs with the assistance of Pakistan.

Suspicion turned to certainty when North Korean leaders admitted in October 2002 that they had been operating a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of international treaties. The country also was in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States in which North Korea had promised to halt its nuclear program. (The United States wanted that agreement because it suspected that the country already had stockpiled enough plutonium for at least one nuclear bomb.)

After North Korea's new disclosure, the Bush administration -- already on the brink of war with Iraq -- scrambled to respond.

• 2002: Nukes and the "Axis of Evil"
1994: Diplomacy With Pyongyang
1991: End of a Superpower
1976: An Axe Fight Nearly Triggers War
1968: Spy Ships and Infiltrators
1948: From Independence to War

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