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North Korea: Prime Minister and US President discussed issue; academic discusses drug smuggling and nuclear weapons.



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PM

 

Monday 5 May 2003

North Korea: Prime Minister and US President discussed issue; academic discusses drug smuggling and nuclear weapons.

 

MARK COLVIN: In diplomacy, Australia appears to be caught in a bind over North Korea. The Prime Minister has had a lengthy discussion with George W. Bush over the Stalinist State's apparent intention to breach and go on breaching the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. 

 

On another level, Australia is sending strong messages to North Korea over its concern that the nation was involved with smuggling 50 kilos of high-grade heroin to Australia. 

 

Now Australia has to decide whether to deal with the two issues separately or together, and today an expert on North Korea is saying the two could be directly linked with the drugs used to finance the weapons of mass destruction. 

 

Louise Yaxley reports. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: The Prime Minister, John Howard, says he and President George W Bush devoted quite some time to North Korea. 

 

JOHN HOWARD: Well, we had a very lengthy discussion about North Korea. We didn't discuss economic sanctions, but we discussed the various aspects of the relationship between North Korea and many other countries. 

 

It's fair to say that America's attitude towards North Korea is pretty well understood. It makes a great deal of sense. North Korea has been in clear and open breach of her obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: But as the US and Australia discuss how to handle the Pyongyang regime's nuclear ambitions, Australia has another major concern over North Korea.  

 

It suspects the nation of attempting to smuggle in 50 kilos of heroin last month. A North Korean cargo ship was intercepted off the east coast last month, and its crew is in custody awaiting trial. 

 

One man drowned off the Victorian coast, apparently trying to deliver the drugs; his death will be investigated by the Coroner. North Korea's ambassador was called in last week, and bluntly told by the Foreign Affairs Department of the concern. 

 

Professor James Cotton of the Australian Defence Force Academy says there could be a link between the drugs and the nuclear weapons. 

 

JAMES COTTON: And indeed the two issues may be related, because the North Koreans may be trying to raise money in part to finance their development of weapons of mass destruction. 

 

But the issue suggests to me that if it is a regime-linked transaction, the people involved took such extraordinary risks that this shows they are desperate for revenue raising, and so perhaps our concern will not weigh in the balance against their need for money. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Professor Cotton says there's evidence North Korea's been involved in such drug smuggling to other countries. 

 

JAMES COTTON: Well, over the years there have been a number of cases. Some defectors have reported that since 1992 there has been an official program to raise opium poppy crops.  

 

There was a ship, a North Korean ship in a harbour in Japan, in Hiroshima, that was found to be carrying Heroin. Several individuals who seemed to be linked to the regime were arrested in the rush of ferries carrying heroin a few years ago. 

 

So there have been enough of these incidents for there to be a belief that the regime, or some parts of the regime, do actually engage in this kind of traffic. It is a matter of, of course, enormous concern. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: And James Cotton says the evidence suggests this ship might have been sent by the regime. 

 

JAMES COTTON: The fact that there was no legitimate cargo on the ship, the fact that the ship had apparently been modified for this purpose; all of these things point to a continuing program. But of course we have to wait until the court case before we can determine one way or the other. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: James Cotton says while the nuclear issue and potential development of weapons f mass destruction is so grave it's been handled at the prime ministerial and presidential level, sending shipments of high-grade heroin can't be ignored. 

 

JAMES COTTON: I would have thought, though, drug smuggling is such a serious matter, particularly in such quantities, that this should really be dealt with on its merits. The nuclear issue, after all, has been running since the early 1990s and involves, as I say, major global questions. So it would be prudent to keep them separate. 

 

MARK COLVIN: James Cotton from the Defence Force Academy talking to Louise Yaxley.