Seoul (AFP) Feb 5, 2002
The "evil" trio of North Korea, Iran and Iraq that President George W. Bush has vowed to bring to heel is united in the quest to find weapons powerful enough to counter US military might.
But outside this mighty task, the three states whose names regularly darken international disarmament conferences make up an unlikely, almost unholy alliance with no common strategy, diplomats and experts say.
Iraq and North Korea are barely talking to each other -- officially -- and while Iran has good relations with the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang, its ties with capitalist South Korea are better.
All three virulently condemned Bush's "axis of evil" speech last week in which he accused the Iran, Iraq and North Korea of spreading weapons of mass destruction and endangering world peace.
Bush said "all options are on the table" in making "the United States and our allies more secure."
"Bush, the dwarf," said Iraq's official Babel newspaper run by President Saddam Hussein's eldest son Uday. A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman condemned what he called the "moral leprosy" of the Bush administration.
The Iranian government said Monday that it would be an "irreparable mistake" for the United States to launch an attack.
The "axis of evil" label also raised concerns among US allies, such as South Korea where Bush is to hold talks this month.
"To say that there is a serious alliance between them is laughable," the ambassador added. "But individually they do of course pose a threat to the United States."
Iran, Iraq and North Korea share hostility toward the United States. All three are on a US list of states that support terrorism. What has brought them together is the Soviet-origin Scud missile that each has used as a basis for developing a weapon that can threaten US interests.
North Korea provided Iran with Scud missiles during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. North Korean experts also helped Iran's ballistic missile programme, according to US and other western intelligence services.
The two countries remain friendly but the presence of South Korean conglomerates in the Iranian automobile and oil industries act as a major counter-weight, experts said.
And Iran denies there has been military cooperation with North Korea, which now has a missile that the United States fears could hit parts of Alaska.
Thirteen years after the end of the their war, contacts between Iran and Iraq -- both of which refuse to recognise Israel and daily denounce "US hegemony" -- are still uneasy though they made progress during a visit to Tehran in January by Iraq's Foreign Minister Naji Sabri.
Normalisation is held up by the fate of thousands of refugees and prisoners from the 1980-1988 war.
The United States has expressed concern about Iranian weapons and its support for terrorism, particularly since the September 11 attacks on US cities blamed on the al-Qaeda network.
But in Tehran, Iranian political expert Iradj Rachti said: "Iran does not feel part of an axis with Iraq, with whom there are still very serious points of contention, or North Korea.
"Iranian leaders and ordinary people do not understand this link which they consider purely circumstantial," added Rachti.
Some intelligence reports have also said North Korea supplied missiles to Iraq. But President Saddam broke links to the Stalinist North in 1980, accusing Pyongyang of backing Iran in their war.
Little has openly changed since then, despite unconfirmed reports that North Korea is helping to finance a missile plant in Sudan that also has links to Iraq.
"Hatred of America is so far not enough to bring these countries together across vastly different religious, social and economic outlooks," said the Asian ambassador. "They could of course be pushed into it if US pressure increases."
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Bush Says Iran, Iraq And North Korea An "Axis Of Evil"
Washington (AFP) Jan 29, 2002
President George W. Bush singled out Iran, Iraq and North Korea as "an axis of evil," bluntly warning the three nations that they could soon become targets in the US-led war on terrorism.
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