DUBAI, Jan 7 -
The sharp distinction in Washington's approach to the crises in North Korea and Iraq -- diplomacy in one, deployment in the other -- reeks of double standards, say Arab commentators.
The central issues in both cases are weapons of mass destruction in the hands of what U.S. President George W Bush calls the ''axis of evil'', of which Iran is the third member.
The North Korean and Iraqi governments are deemed oppressive regimes that have no respect for human rights and threaten two important U.S. allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia in the case of Iraq, Japan and South Korea in the case of North Korea.
The commonalities, however, end there.
While Iraq has been cooperating with United Nations weapons inspectors and submitting on time all the documents required under Security Council Resolution 1441, North Korea has boldly admitted that it has its own nuclear programme and, in clear defiance of the international community, has ordered U.N. inspectors out of the country.
Further, unlike Baghdad, Pyongyang has at least one active nuclear reactor capable of producing fissile material needed to produce a nuclear weapon. U.S. and British intelligence believe the North Koreans have between two to five such nuclear weapons already.
''The crucial factor that explains the difference in approach is the military capability,'' said Dr Ahmed Saif, director of the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai. ''Iraq would probably succumb quickly to a U.S. invasion, while North Korea's bigger and mightier military could put up a stiff resistance.''
''Second, the victory pie after a war on North Korea is virtually non-existent in comparison to that after a war on Iraq -- oil and restructuring of the Middle East geographical and political map are the main constituents of the stake involved,'' Saif said in an interview.
Third, he added, was the need for Bush to meet the demands of Israel and the Jewish lobby in the United States, which was Iraq-centric, not North Korea-specific.
''America's war and peace in the Middle East is designed by Israel. Saddam has remained its biggest threat since the peace treaties were signed with Egypt and Jordan more than two decades ago. Having a friendlier government in Baghdad makes its task of dealing with the Palestinians even more easier,'' he said.
The U.S. determination to go to war against Iraq led some commentators close to Washington, like U.S. social scientist Francis Fukuyama, to suspect Bush's real intentions. In a 'Wall Street Journal' editorial last week, Fukuyama said: ''The administration's new National Security Strategy lays out an ambitious road map for the wholesale re-ordering of the politics of the Middle East, beginning with the replacement of Saddam Hussein by a democratic, pro-Western government.''
For independent Jordanian political analyst Osama El Sharif, the proposed war on Iraq is more a war for oil than it is anything else.
''It is impossible to explain U.S. behaviour otherwise. Why is Bush so keen on ousting Saddam and engaging Kim when North Korea already has nuclear weapons, the missiles to deliver them, a record of pedalling dangerous weapons, 100,000 U.S. troops in its missile range and a dictator who is much more cruel than Saddam?'' he asked.
''The United States has its own agenda for Iraq. It clearly states that it wants to change the regime of President Saddam Hussein, but that is not the objective of Resolution 1441 and dozens of previous ones related to the Gulf War and the issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction,'' he explained in an interview.
The United States is massing troops in bases close to Iraq and is grooming anti-Saddam groups to take over once the present regime is toppled.
If the U.N. does not come up with conclusive and damning evidence that Iraq has manipulated facts and that it continues to maintain nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes, what would be the legal justification for war, Sharif asked.
''I won't be surprised if the United States resorts to mischief and plants evidence of weapons of mass destruction to justify war,'' added Saif.
For its part, Baghdad has gone beyond just accusing Washington of hypocrisy. It urged the Arab world to take inspiration from Pyongyang. ''We Arabs need to revise our behaviour towards the United States, as North Korea has done, to be respected,'' said 'Ath Thawra', the mouthpiece of the ruling Baath party.
''Arabs need to learn the lesson from the Korean example to mobilise in order to stop an attack on Iraq and prevent a U.S.-Zionist crusade in the Arab world,'' the newspaper said last week.
Despite the difference in forces between Pyongyang and Washington, ''Korea insists on its right to possess a technology used by the United States to raze Japanese cities during World War II and which it still uses to blackmail the world and force it to obey its orders,'' the paper said.
It added: ''Through its courageous stance, North Korea demands that international law be applied to all in the same manner.''
Sharif said that U.S. credibility and integrity have suffered badly. ''The crises in Palestine, Iraq and now North Korea have underlined America's unilateral approach to regional and international conflicts and its manipulation of international law to serve that approach,'' he said
''The stakes for waging war against Iraq are too high especially for the innocent, but the biggest blow will be to international law and multilateralism if the United States attacks even when the United Nations is still presuming Iraq's innocence,'' he pointed out.
Without full U.N. backing and support in the U.S. war in Iraq, no matter the justifications, will be a stark and vicious aggression, not liberation as Bush would like to see it,'' Sharif said.
Copyright 2003 IPS