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North Korea Sees Opening in U.S. Focus on Kosovo Crisis

By Mary Jordan

North Korean officials are rejoicing in the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia because they believe it distracts Washington from focusing on their repressive regime and illustrates the pitfalls awaiting any potential U.S. military action against Pyongyang.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is suspected of pursuing expensive nuclear weapons and missile-development programs while millions of his people are suffering from hunger. At the same North Korea recently agreed to permit international inspections of a suspected nuclear site, 37,000 U.S. soldiers were in South Korea, guarding against the nation that is the region’s most serious security threat.

“We sincerely hope that the United States continues attacking (in Yugoslavia) and sends ground troops so it gets bogged down as it did in Vietnam,” said Kim Myong Chol, who acts as an unofficial spokesman for North Korea in Tokyo. “And we hope more of its fighter jets are shot down.”

Yugoslavia’s resilience shows that NATO has undertaken a “mission impossible,” said Kim. “Yugoslavia is a tough country but we are 10 times, 100 times tougher.”

Russian analysts who interviewed North Korean officials for a just-released report from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., said the NATO bombing has had a major impact on the North Korean government, and may lead it to further upgrade its missile and military capability.

“The bombing has ’completely and irreversibly’ convinced Pyongyang that it is dealing with a ’new Hitler’ who is determined to conquer the entire world through intimidation, pressure and aggression,” the report said, referring to President Clinton.

The Russian analysts also said North Koreans view the bombing in Yugoslavia as “broadening opportunities” for North Korea. While it is preoccupied in Europe, the U.S., in the North Koreans’ view, will be more “flexible in other parts of the world, including Korea.”