DPRK is a factor in Syria plans

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DPRK is a factor in Syria plans

Pyongyang weighs heavily on the minds of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. leaders as Congress debates authorization for a controversial military strike against Syria. Inaction, administration officials say, will set a bad example for other U.S. foes like North Korea and Iran.

In a Senate hearing, Kerry urged lawmakers to back the Obama administration’s plan for a military strike in Syria, whose president, Bashar al-Assad, allegedly used chemical weapons against civilians near Damascus on Aug. 21. Kerry said a failure to respond to that provocation would be an opportunity for U.S. enemies to “misinterpret our intentions.” No government has been proven to have employed chemical weapons since 1988, when Iraq used mustard gas against Kurds in northern Iraq.

“North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries the day. They are all listening for our silence,” Kerry said. “And if we don’t answer Assad today, we will erode a standard .?.?. that has protected our own troops in war, and we will invite even more dangerous tests down the road.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who also testified at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, supported Kerry by saying a failure to respond would send a dangerous signal to the likes of North Korea and Iran.

“North Korea maintains a massive stockpile of chemical weapons that threatens our treaty ally the Republic of Korea and the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed there,” Hagel said.

The defense secretary recalled a ministerial meeting in Brunei last month, saying he had previously had a “very serious and long conversation” with Kim Kwan-jin, South Korea’s defense minister, about the “real threat” posed by North Korea’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

North Korea claims it does not have chemical weapons, but it is one of five countries, including Syria, that have not signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention banning the development, stockpiling, transfer and use of chemical arms.

The South Korean Ministry of Defense has estimated in its recent posture statements (white papers) that 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons are stored in facilities in the North.

Kerry told the Senate committee that not taking action would be an “enormous setback to America’s capacity and to our vision in the world and certainly to the role of leadership that we play.”

U.S. political observers say the outlook for Congressional approval is uncertain.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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