WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned North Korea Monday not to take advantage of America's preoccupation with Iraq, as the United States is capable of fighting and winning two wars at once.
He was commenting on the reports that North Korea has dismantled seals and removed cameras placed at its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The move has triggered fears that the Kim Jong Il's government may be trying to reactivate its nuclear facilities.
"I have no reason to believe that ... North Korea feels emboldened because of the world's interest in Iraq," he told a briefing at the Pentagon.
"If they do, it would be a mistake," because the U.S. military was perfectly capable of fighting two major regional conflicts while continuing to engage terrorists across the world.
"We are capable of winning decisively in one and swiftly defeating in the case of the other," he said. "Let there be no doubt about it."
North Korea said Sunday that it was reactivating the Yongbyon reactor to generate electricity. But the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog IAEA said the North also had broken U.N. seals on about 8,000 spent fuel rods in a cooling pond there.
The rods could be reprocessed to recover plutonium for nuclear weapons.
In 1994, when it was reported that North Korea was moving ahead with its nuclear weapons program, the Clinton administration threatened to go to war, if necessary, to close down the Yongbyon fast breeder reactor. International experts had indicated that if not stopped, North Korea could have produced nuclear weapons in six months.
Under a deal hatched at the time, North Korea agreed to close its fast-breeder reactor program under international supervision, in return for assistance to build a light-water reactor, and fuel oil to tide them over while the new plants were being built. Light-water reactors cannot be used in the development of nuclear weapons.
But after the North admitted earlier this year that it was attempting to get around the deal by building a plant to enrich uranium -- which can be used as an alternative to plutonium -- the United States suspended deliveries of fuel oil.
Yongbyon had remained closed until last week when the communist regime broke the U.N.-placed seals and removed monitoring cameras.
At the State Department, spokesman Philip Reeker said the entire international community wants North Korea to live up to its commitments to respond to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which wants it to "verifiably and visibly eliminate its nuclear weapons program."
In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov suggested that President George W. Bush's decision to include North Korea in an "axis of evil" might have caused Pyongyang to defy U.N.-sponsored restrictions on its nuclear facilities.
"How should a small country feel when it is told that it is all but part of forces of evil of biblical proportions and should be fought against until total annihilation?" asked Mamedov while talking to the Vremya Novostei daily newspaper.
"There is no use expecting countries included in the 'axis of evil' to remain passive. By reacting they may naturally break certain international agreements," said Mamedov.
But the State Department rejected the allegation as "absurd."
"I think that's totally absurd," said Reeker. "North Korea has taken its actions, quite clearly, in violation of a number of international agreements, and North Korea is the country responsible for deepening its isolation with the recent actions."
Reeker said the official Russian reaction was different from that of Mamedov. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, he said, reflected the international consensus that North Korea's relations with the outside world hinge on the elimination of its nuclear weapons program in a visible and verifiable manner.
He said the Russian foreign minister was among the world leaders Secretary of State Colin Powell has been in close contact with since he learned about the North Korean decision to remove international monitoring devices.
"I think the entire international community, including Russia, is quite unified and clear in the view that North Korea has to take its responsibilities seriously to live up to its international agreements."