WASHINGTON (AP) – The only way to combat North Korea’s dictator is for the world to unite against him as it has against terrorism, North Korean’s top-ranking defector said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.

On his first trip to the United States, Hwang Jang Yop also said he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is fully prepared to start a war and that there’s no telling whether Kim will ever give up his nuclear program.

“It’s like … asking whether a venomous snake will bite or not,” Hwang said in the interview.

The 81-year-old Hwang is a former chief of North Korea’s parliament who once mentored Kim and then became the country’s highest-ranking defector in 1997.

He was in Washington this week to share his views about the regime with the Pentagon, State Department and other U.S. officials in an administration that has been trying to negotiate to bring an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. A senior administration official said Thursday that sessions with Hwang were “very productive.”

North Korea has frustrated U.S. officials with repeated shifts on whether it is interested in continuing the six-nation talks started in August on its nuclear program. The North Koreans have at times indicated they were willing to consider a proposal in which they would disarm in exchange for a U.S. nonaggression agreement.

On Friday, China’s second-highest leader returned from North Korea with an agreement “in principle” from Pyongyang to rejoin talks. President Bush has said the United States would consider some type of security guarantee by all six parties, short of a formal treaty.

But Hwang said Friday that he’s personally disinterested in the outcome of such talks, which also include South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

“What I am most interested in is elimination of the dictatorship in North Korea and changing that regime to a more democratic system,” said Hwang, also a former chief ideologue and head of propaganda operations in Pyongyang.

“The dictatorship of North Korea is not a problem that is limited to the Korean peninsula, but … a problem that all the people in the world must deal with,” he said.

Unfortunately, Pyongyang still has international support, he said. Even nations the United States has assembled for the talks are not united enough against the communist regime, he believes.

“For example, China continues to be a major ally … and there are people in Russia, South Korea, Japan and even the United States who are supporting the position of the dictatorship,” he said. By that, he said he meant they support the status quo or the idea of slowly reforming the regime rather than eliminating it.

Hwang has been living in South Korea under tight security and has written books and given lectures condemning Kim’s regime as totalitarian. But until now, South Korea has kept him from visiting the United States out of concern for his security, according to officials in Seoul.

Another possible reason, cited by U.S. officials, is that former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung feared that a visit to the United States would set back Kim’s efforts to reach out to North Korea. After Kim finished his term in February, South Korea became more amenable to a Washington visit by Hwang.

Many things about Pyongyang leader Kim have mystified official Washington since he took office nine years ago after the death of his father. Officials viewed their meetings with Hwang as a way to “add to our understanding of the situation on the peninsula,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Hwang disagrees with those who say the North’s Kim would never start a conflict because he knows the U.S. and South Korean military response would end his regime.

“Kim Jong Il has sacrificed a lot – the economy, the people,” Hwang said, referring to a famine that has killed estimated millions. “And all the sacrifices were for the expansion of his military. I don’t believe he was (just) trying to display them and brag about the fact that he has these things. He really intends to start a war,” Hwang said.

Still, he added, he doesn’t think Kim would start a war unless he felt he could prevail.

AP-ES-10-31-03 1704EST

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