#14 - JRL 7140
Russia sees Iraq link to N.Korea crisis
By Martin Nesirky
SEOUL, April 10 (Reuters) - Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Thursday North Korea had learned from the U.S.-led war that unseated Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and might ignore any U.N. decision on its own suspected nuclear weapons programme.
The U.N. Security Council met on Wednesday to discuss North Korea but, because of resistance from China and Russia, failed to issue a statement urging North Korea to resume commitments under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) it quit in January.
Ivanov told reporters Seoul and Moscow agreed North Korea and the United States should refrain from using harsh language during the nuclear crisis, which began last year when Washington said Pyongyang had admitted having a secret nuclear plan.
"I do not rule out that if any decision whatsoever is taken by the United Nations on this question it will be ignored by Pyongyang, which will refer to other precedents," Ivanov said after talks with South Korean Defence Minister Cho Young-kil.
Pyongyang reiterated its view on Thursday that the Iraq war had proved North Korea's security could be ensured only by having "physical deterrent force."
The official KCNA news agency did not mention nuclear arms in its commentary but said the deterrent had to be strong enough to repel an enemy with sophisticated weapons.
Ivanov said Pyongyang's logic in deciding to try to acquire a deterrent -- he also did not specifically refer to nuclear weapons -- was based on the U.S. strategy towards Iraq, which went from failed diplomatic efforts at the United Nations to a U.S.-led war that has ended Saddam's 24-year rule.
"The turn of events, including the war in Iraq, confirmed that prognosis," the minister said, adding it was Pyongyang's logic rather than Moscow's. North Korea says it will be next on Washington's list, something the United States denies.
North Korea, bracketed by Washington with Iran and Iraq in an "axis of evil" for seeking to develop and proliferate weapons of mass destruction, has denied admitting to a nuclear plan.
The South's Yonhap news agency said in an unsourced report that South Korea's National Security Council agreed to intensify diplomatic efforts to end the nuclear crisis because the focus could swiftly switch from Iraq to the divided Korean peninsula.
The presidential Blue House declined to comment on the report, saying details of such meetings were not made public.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Seoul was relieved the Security Council had taken no action at the United Nations.
Ivanov said the prestige and authority of the U.N. had suffered a palpable blow since Washington and its allies decided to push ahead with a war against Iraq without explicit Security Council backing. Saddam's rule dissolved on Wednesday, although U.S. control over Baghdad was not complete.
"Events show many states are starting to act as they see fit without regard for international law," he said.
Ivanov told President Roh Moo-hyun Russia would work closely with South Korea to solve the North's nuclear crisis, the Blue House said. Roh said diplomatic efforts needed to be redoubled.
A senior official at the Unification Ministry told reporters there were signs China was leaning toward multilateral rather than bilateral talks and was sending this message to Pyongyang.
"I expect the North to change its mind sooner or later," the official said. North Korea has shown no sign of doing so yet.
Ivanov's talks were part of a flurry of diplomacy. South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan was in China on Thursday.
In Vienna, an official at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said it was still unclear whether North Korea was legally free of its NPT obligations after unilaterally declaring itself out of the pact on January 10.
He told Reuters opinions differed among legal experts.
"The only body that can determine for certain is the NPT members themselves and they only meet once every five years," he said. The IAEA referred the crisis to the United Nations.
Japan's top government spokesman, Yasuo Fukuda, took a similar line in Tokyo, telling reporters there was no consensus on whether the North had withdrawn.
The North has had little time for diplomatic delicacies and simply says it left the pact and had no need to observe a 90-day notice period, which lapsed on Thursday. The North wants talks with Washington and a non-aggression pact.
Ivanov said Russia, which has limited influence over North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, was prepared to offer a security guarantee of its own to North Korea. But, clearly, Pyongyang's main concern is Washington -- North Korea says the United States will attack it after Iraq, something U.S. officials deny.
Stratfor, a U.S.-based company that provides intelligence analysis, said Kim made a secret visit to close ally China last month to shore up relations with the new government there and compare notes on the Iraq war. In Beiing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman described the report as baseless. (Additional reporting by Song Jung-a in Seoul, Linda Sieg in Tokyo, Louis Charbonnneau in Vienna and John Ruwitch in Beijing)