By MARK McDONALD
SEOUL, South Korea — A North Korean statement that Libya’s dismantling of its nuclear weapons program had made it vulnerable to military intervention by the West is being seen by analysts as an ominous reinforcement of the North’s refusal to end its own nuclear program.
North Korea’s official news agency carried comments this week from a Foreign Ministry official criticizing the air assault on Libyan government forces and suggesting that Libya had been duped in 2003 when it abandoned its nuclear program in exchange for promises of aid and improved relations with the West.
Calling the West’s bargain with Libya “an invasion tactic to disarm the country,” the official said it amounted to a bait and switch approach. “The Libyan crisis is teaching the international community a grave lesson,” the official was quoted as saying Tuesday, proclaiming that North Korea’s “songun” ideology of a powerful military was “proper in a thousand ways” and the only guarantor of peace on the Korean Peninsula.
As they have watched the attacks in Libya this week, senior North Korean leaders “must feel alarmed, but also deeply satisfied with themselves,” said Rüdiger Frank, an adjunct professor at Korea University and the University of North Korean Studies, writing on the Web site 38 North. North Korea is believed to have 8 to 12 nuclear weapons and last year disclosed a new uranium-enrichment plant.
Mr. Frank said that the Libyan situation was “at least the third instance in two decades that would seem to offer proof that they did something right while others failed and ultimately paid the price.” He said North Korea would probably see object lessons in the Soviet Union’s decision to end the arms race and to “abandon the political option to use their weapons of mass destruction,” and in Iraq’s agreement to accept United Nations nuclear inspectors and monitors. And now, Libya.
“To put it bluntly,” Mr. Frank said, “in the eyes of the North Korean leadership all three countries took the economic bait, foolishly disarmed themselves, and once they were defenseless, were mercilessly punished by the West.”
“It requires little imaginative power to see what conclusions will be drawn in Pyongyang,” he said, adding that anyone in the senior leadership who favored denuclearization “will now be silent.”
The United States said there was no link between Libya’s abandonment of efforts to develop nuclear arms and other weapons and the current military campaign by Western nations.
“Where they’re at today has absolutely no connection with them renouncing their nuclear program or nuclear weapons,” said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.
The comments by the anonymous North Korean official appeared to dim the chances for a renewal of the so-called six-party talks on the dismantling of North Korea’s atomic program. The talks ended in 2009 when North Korea withdrew, angry over international sanctions that followed a long-range missile test. The two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan are the participants in the six-party process, which began in 2003. China, North Korea’s only major ally, has served as the host country.