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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Is Resigned to a Nuclear North Korea

TOKYO -- The United States and Asian countries have begun to accept the idea of a nuclear-armed North Korea, according to officials and analysts here and in Washington. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is increasingly turning its attention to preventing Pyongyang from selling nuclear material to the highest bidder.

The United States is also considering sending fighter jet escorts with reconnaissance planes near North Korea after its jets intercepted a U.S. surveillance flight and shadowed it for 20 minutes, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The Pentagon also is sending more military forces to northeast Asia "as a prudent gesture to bolster our defense posture and as a deterrent," said Defense Department spokesman Lieutenant Commander Jeff Davis.

Envoys for the new South Korean president, Roh Moo Hyun, shocked Bush advisers in Washington when they said they would rather have a nuclear North Korea than a chaotic collapse of the government there, according to sources in Seoul.

In Japan, located within missile range of North Korea, officials feel their neighbor cannot be stopped from producing a bomb. "We need to be debating how to live with North Korea, with or without nuclear weapons," said Taro Kono, a lawmaker from the ruling party.

Washington had issued repeated warnings to North Korea not to begin reprocessing materials that could become fuel for a nuclear bomb, but administration officials have become resigned to North Korea taking that step within the next few weeks.

"The administration has acquiesced in North Korea becoming a nuclear power," said a Senate source who was briefed last week on the administration's evolving policy.

The administration thinks the shock of a decision by Pyongyang to export nuclear materials would force other nations to drop their reluctance to confront the communist state. According to that view, they would go along with the United States in mounting a tough campaign to further isolate the North and possibly to try to interdict suspected shipments of nuclear materials.

Production of plutonium that could flow abroad in clandestine sales "fundamentally changes the equation," contends an administration official. "Literally every city on the planet would be threatened."

Many officials in Asia believe Washington will now set "red lines" that it will not tolerate North Korea crossing. But Bush and his senior advisers have refused, publicly at least, saying it would only encourage North Korea to charge past them.

"Our major fear is that North Korea would pass on fissile material or other nuclear technology" to "rogue states" or outlaw groups, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage warned Congress last month. "I don't think, given the poverty of North Korea, that it would be too long" before such sales took place, he said.

(WP, AP)