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  February 7,  

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Iran, North Korea cry foul
By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi lodged a strong protest with the United Nations on Tuesday against what he called "unfounded allegations" by the United States that his country was developing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons to terrorize the world. Kharrazi also objected to the use of the word "evil" to describe Iran, which he said, was "a profanity against the Islamic Republic of Iran".

In his State of the Union address to Congress last week, US President George W Bush singled out three countries - Iran, Iraq, and North Korea - as potential targets in the ongoing US war against terrorism. Bush described the three countries - already on a State Department list of "terrorist states" - as an "axis of evil" and accused them of developing weapons of mass destruction.

In its response to Bush's "axis of evil" speech, North Korea has accused the United States of plotting a war to occupy the communist state. Declaring it has "powerful offensive and defensive" means available, the official newspaper of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party the Rodong Sinmun warned Washington against taking any military action against North Korea, saying it "is neither Afghanistan nor Yugoslavia nor Iraq".

Kharrazi, in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, expressed "grave disappointment" and "strong indignation" over Bush's remarks. The speech, he said, was obviously intended for domestic consumption at a time when the US administration is "seeking to double military spending in the United States".

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan would not comment on the Kharrazi letter.

Far from supporting terrorism, the letter said, Iran was one of the first countries to propose convening an international conference to discuss terrorism. The proposal, which Arab nations have endorsed, has received lukewarm support from Washington and the 15-member European Union (EU), primarily out of fear that such a meeting could serve to isolate Israel for what numerous states regard as its state terrorism against Palestinians.

"The president of the United States accused the Islamic Republic of Iran of seeking weapons of mass destruction," Kharrazi said in his letter. "It is ironic that a US administration, which has systematically engaged in the dismantling and undermining of all international regimes against weapons of mass destruction, takes the liberty of leveling unfounded accusations against one of the foremost advocates of such international regimes."

Stoking Iranian and other complaints about its behavior, the Bush administration last year blocked finalization of a protocol strengthening implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Washington has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) but on condition that UN inspectors not be allowed to remove any evidence from the country. It also has ratified the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Last year, the Bush administration also announced its unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. Washington also has rejected the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty (CTBT). Kharrazi's letter said Iran, by contrast, is party to the CWC, BWC, CTBT and the NPT.

The Iranian foreign minister also accused Washington of providing "unreserved support and assistance" for what he maintained is Israeli state terrorism in occupied Palestinian territories.

Speaking to UN correspondents on Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said he was visiting Washington to thank the administration "for standing all the way with Israel".

For its part, the EU is negotiating a trade agreement with Iran and appears to be distancing itself from Washington's efforts to isolate Tehran. The Financial Times of London on Tuesday quoted an unnamed EU official as saying: "Bush can say what he likes and we listen to him. But we've seen in the past how Washington's policy of containment with regard to Iran and Iraq has led nowhere."

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, which ousted the strongly pro-US Shah of Iran, Washington has sustained both economic and military sanctions against Tehran. Last April, Bush said he had no plans to lift these embargoes. Despite ongoing political liberalization in Iran, he said, a change in US policy was not imminent. "As far as Iran goes, it's too early at this time in our relationship to really act on sanctions. I don't intend to do that anytime soon," he said.

In mid-1998, both the US Senate and the House of Representatives voted to penalize foreign enterprises, particularly in Russia, for providing what they deemed sensitive missile technology to Iran. But the proposed legislation was vetoed by then president Bill Clinton, whose administration made attempts to warm up to Iran.

Pyongyang barks back
North Korea went on to describe Bush's comments that the "axis of evil" and its "terrorist allies ... [which] threatens the peace of the world" as "little short of declaring a war".

"He openly revealed his dangerous design to seize North Korea by forces of arms, groundlessly linking it with terrorism," said the Rodong Sinmun article, carried by the North's state-run news agency, KCNA, monitored in Seoul. The "option to 'strike' on the lips of the US is not its monopoly," it said. "Our revolutionary armed forces have unlimited striking power and no aggressor against North Korea will go safe no matter where they are on earth."

Washington has long suspected that North Korea is seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear devices and the long-range missile capability with which to deliver them. And under the Bill Clinton administration, Washington agreed to provide Pyongyang with fuel and funds if it agreed to suspend construction of a nuclear facility which US defense officials alleged could have produced material for weapons. However, the current US administration have described that policy as tantamount to blackmail.

(Asia Times Online/Inter Press Service)


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