The US government exaggerated the threat from North Korea's nuclear programs, just as it manipulated intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a US foreign policy expert says.
Selig Harrison said in an article published on Friday that US President George W. Bush's administration claimed that Pyongyang was on its way to producing weapons-grade uranium to scare allies Japan and South Korea into a tougher stance on the communist nation.
But by failing to distinguish between civilian and military uranium-enrichment capabilities, Washington greatly complicated the already complex efforts to eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions, Harrison wrote in the Dec. 17 issue of Foreign Affairs.
"Relying on sketchy data, the Bush administration presented a worst-case scenario as an incontrovertible truth and distorted its intelligence on North Korea [much as it did on Iraq], seriously exaggerating the danger that Pyongyang is secretly making uranium-based nuclear weapons," he said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli dismissed the article's claims on Friday.
"We think there is a wealth of clear and compelling evidence about North Korea's uranium enrichment program," he said. "We have known since the late 1990s that North Korea was interested in enrichment technology."
He said the US obtained evidence more than two-and-a-half years ago that North Korea was pursuing a covert program to enrich uranium and assessed it was aimed at making nuclear weapons.
Ereli said the US informed the North Koreans about its knowledge of the program in October 2002 and it was at that time that North Korea acknowledged to senior US officials that it was pursuing a covert program.
"So I think that it's not a question, as Dr. Harrison suggests, of us exaggerating something, but rather the case of there being a multitude of clear and persuasive evidence that North Korea itself has acknowledged," Ereli said.
The article by Harrison, the director of the Asia Program and chairman of the Task Force on US-Korea Policy at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, was posted on the Foreign Affairs Web site on Friday.
The nuclear crisis flared after US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly accused North Korea of running a clandestine program to enrich uranium while on a visit to Pyongyang in October 2002.
Washington then cut off free oil shipments to North Korea that were promised under a 1994 agreement that froze North Korea's nuclear-weapons program using reprocessed plutonium, another means to create an atomic bomb.
Pyongyang retaliated, withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and restarting its plutonium facilities. It has since denied having a uranium program.