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Year-in-Review

"Year-in-Review" Continued...

Issue: "Year in Review 2002," Dec. 28, 2002

Sudan's Islamic government wants to prove a leopard can change its spots. Khartoum entered into ceasefire and peace negotiations with southern rebels in compliance with the Sudan Peace Act signed by Mr. Bush in October. But even as talks first got underway in neighboring Kenya, Khartoum forces attacked civilian sites in southern Sudan. The government halted flights of grain and other necessities into the south, causing fear of widespread starvation, but officials lifted the flight ban after nine days. That was long enough to demonstrate Khartoum's willingness to use food for political purposes-and its veto power over UN operations in the war-shattered south.

Sudan took steps to curry favor with the United States in the war on terror. A shelter to Osama bin Laden until 1996, the Khartoum government pled for debt forgiveness and an increase in diplomatic relations in exchange for intelligence on al-Qaeda activities in the Red Sea region.

Other terror-linked nations won't easily erase their spots. North Korea's communist leaders acknowledged that they have been secretly developing nuclear weapons for years. The program violates a 1994 deal with the Clinton administration in which North Korea offered to abandon nuclear development in exchange for food, fuel, and nuclear power-plant construction. Since 1995 the United States has provided more than $500 million in food and other commodities under the deal. Thai officials say Pyongyang has been selling donated rice for a profit on the world market while many North Koreans are starving.

North Koreans fleeing hunger and persecution into northeast China increased. Dozens defied Chinese policy demanding their return, using an underground railroad of house churches to make their way to Beijing, where they found asylum in Western embassies.

The forces of moderation in Iran that came to power five years ago have done little to bend its powerful fundamentalist theocracy-the founding fathers of Islamic terrorism now threatening the West. Tehran's mullahs continue to squelch religious freedom and to support terrorism. But a grassroots movement of resentment and protest is brewing against them. Iran sheltered fleeing Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives who crossed its border from Afghanistan. Tehran continues to finance Hezbollah, which carries out attacks against Israel from its stronghold in south Lebanon. In March Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his group was trying to smuggle Katyusha rockets into the West Bank.

Terrorist backing from Iran, Syria, and Iraq allowed Palestinians to continue another year of intifada against Israel. Arms caches and suicide bombings-which have killed nearly 700 since they began in 2000-prompted Israel to seize the headquarters of Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat in April. Israeli forces took back Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza, including Bethlehem. Nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been killed in two years of fighting.

War weariness is fracturing hard-line leadership on both sides. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon likely faces a tough reelection against dovish newcomer Amram Mitzna. Palestinian leaders at the same time are breaking with Mr. Arafat, most recently West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub and former Arafat deputy Mahmoud Abbas. They say Mr. Arafat's decision to allow Islamic militant groups to set the course for Palestinians is a mistake.

The Middle East stalemate hinged the yearlong war that wasn't: Iraq. Pentagon planners in January began briefing the president on strike options against Saddam Hussein. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Saddam Hussein may have been behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and thereby also at the controls on Sept. 11. But of more immediate concern to the Pentagon have been reports on frightening arms production. Saddam's former chief nuclear scientist, defector Khidir Hamza, said Iraq needs only fissile material to produce a nuclear bomb. Another Iraqi defector testified to visiting at least 20 different sites in Iraq associated with all three classes of mass terror weapons-nuclear, chemical, and biological.

"Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger," Mr. Bush told the United Nations General Assembly on the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. "To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence."

Despite a potent buildup of U.S. forces in the Gulf, and an October congressional resolution authorizing the president to use them, the Pentagon strategies foundered on the shoals of multilateralism. Allies demanded that any action against Iraq come through the UN. For a time, at least, the United States and Great Britain are going along. So the world body kickstarted its own attempt to curb Saddam, passing a resolution in November that sent UN weapons inspectors back to Baghdad ahead of any military solution.

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