U.S. Can't Rule Out N.Korea Strike, Rumsfeld Adviser Says
Wednesday, June 11, 2003; 4:32 PM
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States should be prepared to destroy North Korea's Yongbyon reactor if necessary to keep Pyongyang from trafficking in nuclear weapons, an influential member of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's advisory panel said on Wednesday.
"Whether we can effectively mobilize a coalition -- including China, Russia, the South Koreans, the Japanese, ourselves -- and so isolate them that they will abandon this program, that remains to be seen," said Richard Perle, an architect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"That's certainly the preferable way to deal with it," he added in a speech to a conference on Iraqi reconstruction.
"But I don't think anyone can exclude the kind of surgical strike we saw in 1981," he said, referring to Israel's surprise air attack that destroyed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad on June 7, 1981. "We should always be prepared to go it alone, if necessary."
The administration of President Bush has branded North Korea part of "an axis of evil" with Iran and pre-war Iraq and wants Pyongyang to ditch its nuclear program.
The nuclear dispute erupted last October when the United States said Pyongyang had admitted to having a covert program.
On Monday, North Korea said it wanted nuclear weapons so it could cut its huge conventional forces and divert funds into an economy foreign analysts say is close to collapse.
"I think we must assume that if they had a nuclear weapon, and if al Qaeda wished to purchase a nuclear weapon, it's a deal that could be done," said Perle, who was assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under President Ronald Reagan.
Washington blames Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group for the Sept. 11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.
Perle resigned on March 27 as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an unpaid advisory panel to Rumsfeld, after critics charged his business activities conflicted with his work for the board. He remains a board member.
He said the United States could not let Communist North Korea acquire nuclear weapons. But he did not address U.S. intelligence assessments that Pyongyang already has one or perhaps two nuclear weapons based on plutonium obtained from a program that, frozen in 1994, was resumed late last year.
Asked whether the United States ultimately might resort to force, he said: "It is too soon to say whether that's the only way we can prevent something I think we must prevent."
Perle said the situation in Iran, which Washington accuses of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of building power-generating reactors, was very different from North Korea's.
"I think we should be encouraging its failure," he said of the Iranian government.