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Expert discusses North Korea

March 06, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

North Korea, which this week threatened that armed confrontation could be imminent on the Korean Peninsula, could make five nuclear bombs in about six months, an expert on Korea said at Shepherd College Wednesday night.

"It is a dangerous situation we cannot ignore," Hang Yul Rhee told students during a speech in the Cumberland Room of Shepherd's College Center.

North Korea officials issued the nuclear war threat after North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan on Sunday.

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A North Korean newspaper said nuclear war will break out "if the eagle swoops down on us."

Rhee, chairperson of the Political Science Department at Shepherd and president of the International Council of Korean Studies, said there are several steps officials could consider in an effort to reduce tensions in North Korea.

Some would be effective, some would not, said Rhee.

One option would be to undermine North Korea's government, but China is opposed to such a move, Rhee said. China fears that if the North Korean government is undermined, millions of refugees will flood its border, Rhee said.

Economic sanctions could be considered against Korea, but that could be considered a declaration of war, Rhee said.

Rhee said he thinks the most successful way to resolve the situation is through financial aid. North Korea's economy is failing and perhaps the best way to reduce the nuclear threat is by offering an "economic carrot" to the country, Rhee said.

Japan has already said it was willing to give $10 million to Korea, Rhee said.

Meanwhile, Rhee is troubled by the reaction to the situation by U.S. officials.

President Bush is ignoring the situation, which Rhee worries is aggravating the situation.

"He doesn't say anything these days," Rhee said.

Rhee said many people do not understand North Korea, adding that many Americans picked up what they know from the country from "M.A.S.H." reruns on television "or the latest movies of James Bond."

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