Key Democrat seeks strike on N. Korea plants if they develop nuclear arms

March 18, 1993|By Charles W. Corddry | Charles W. Corddry,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Rep. John P. Murtha, who chairs a potent House defense panel, said yesterday that the United States should knock out North Korean nuclear facilities if they are found to be developing nuclear weapons.

The Pennsylvania Democrat, chairman of the Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee, urged such military action in the wake of North Korea's surprise withdrawal March 12 from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Mr. Murtha coupled that proposal with a general warning to the Clinton administration against further reductions in U.S. defense forces and budgets.

At breakfast with a defense writers group arranged at his request, he cited world crises and a failure so far to change foreign-military policies that, he said, were heavily straining U.S. forces operating around the world.

The administration should decide on new and less ambitious policy directions -- avoiding Somalia-type operations and staying out of Bosnia-type conflicts, for example -- before it tries to make any more tucks in defense, Mr. Murtha said.

"We cannot take any more cuts," he said, adding that he would oppose the Clinton budget if deeper reductions are sought. The Clinton budget calls for defense spending of $277 billion in the year starting Oct. 1, a reduction of $16 billion from the current year, according to an aide to Mr. Murtha.

His warning on budget cuts echoed one from Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., who heads the Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Murtha's stance on North Korean nuclear weapons PTC development recalled the Israeli air strike that knocked out Iraq's French-built reactor at Tuwaitha in 1981.

That caused a great deal of unfavorable world reaction at the time, including in Washington. But attitudes changed a decade later when Iraq invaded Kuwait and was found to be closer to nuclear arms development than had been thought.

Mr. Murtha may be ahead of events at the moment, with U.S. and Chinese efforts under way to ease tension on the Korean peninsula. But he is not alone in urging the general proposition that extreme measures may be needed to stop nuclear proliferation.

Defense Secretary Les Aspin took a similar position a year ago, when he was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee:

"In the last analysis, would you advocate the use of force to take out a nuclear capability in the case of a particularly bad actor who refuses to cooperate in any other way? We've got to face up to that question, and I think the answer is 'Yes.' "

Mr. Aspin said international support should be sought but unilateral action should be taken if necessary.

Mr. Murtha was uncertain about whether the United States should act alone in such a grave undertaking and argued for "taking out installations with U.N. approval." He said he thought Russia and China, whose relations with South Korea have thawed, would be "passive" about strikes on the Communist North.

North Korea denounced the non-proliferation pact in the face of a demand by the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect two nuclear sites suspected of being weapons facilities.

While the aged North Korean dictator, Kim Il Sung, had seemingly gone far toward opening his nuclear works to inspection, there was widespread suspicion in the U.S. government that he was engaged in deception and still pursued a weapons program.

The latest action reinforced the suspicion. Asked how close North Korea was to having a nuclear bomb, Mr. Murtha said, "I can't answer that."

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