N Korea still "axis of evil" member ? Bush

The US president George W Bush says North Korea remained ? for now ? part of what he once branded an "axis of evil".

The US president George W Bush looks at his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak during their news conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.
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SEOUL // The US president George W Bush said today that North Korea remained ? for now ? part of what he once branded an "axis of evil", but hoped the list would some day be empty. In his 2002 State of the Union address to the US Congress, Mr Bush accused Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, Iran and Iraq of seeking weapons of mass destruction that could be used for attacks on US allies or to blackmail the United States.

But recent steps by North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons, including declaring nuclear programme details and blowing up a water cooling tower at its ageing Yongbyon plant, had raised questions whether it might be removed from the list. "That's to be determined. The human rights abuses inside the country still exist and persist," Mr Bush said after meeting the South Korean president Lee Myung-bak.

"The North Korean leader (Kim Jong-il) has yet to fully verify the extent to which he has had a highly enriched uranium programme." "In order to get off the list, the 'axis of evil' list, then the North Korean leader is going to have to make certain decisions," he said. "I can't predict the North Korean leader's decision making." Mr Bush praised the demolition of the cooling tower as a "positive step".

He has already proposed dropping North Korea from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism as early as next week if Pyongyang agrees to a plan for verifying details about its nuclear weapons programme. But most experts expect that will take longer. Critics said the label was inaccurate and confrontational when Mr Bush should have focused more on diplomacy. The White House has said President Bush did pursue diplomatic means.

Iraq was effectively dropped from the list after the United States led a coalition of forces to oust the former leader Saddam Hussein. However, no nuclear weapons were found in Iraq despite the Bush administration's pronouncements Baghdad had a programme to develop them. Iran remains atop the "axis of evil" list because of a stalemate over halting its uranium enrichment programme. Washington is worried Iran wants to manufacture an atomic weapon but Tehran insists it is only seeking civilian nuclear energy.

"My hope is that the 'axis of evil' list no longer exists," Mr Bush said. "That's my hope for the sake of peace. It's my hope for the sake of our children." *Reuters