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NKorea's uranium plan to create trickier nuclear standoff

by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) June 14, 2009
North Korea's vow to start a new nuclear weapons programme based on enriched uranium will make the goal of denuclearisation even more daunting for the US and its allies, analysts say.

The North, which for years adamantly denied any uranium enrichment plan, said Saturday it would start such a programme to bolster its nuclear arsenal in protest at new United Nations sanctions.

"It's a threat via a confession," said Baek Seung-Joo, of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

"The nuclear-ambitious North is shifting its strategic goal from having just developed atomic weapons to expanding its nuclear arsenal in a more stable manner and by all means available."

US claims in 2002 that Pyongyang was running a secret uranium enrichment programme, in addition to its admitted plutonium-based operation, led to the collapse of a nuclear disarmament deal.

Six-nation disarmament talks which started a year later focused on plutonium and led to the shutdown in 2007 of plants which produced the material.

The North, angry at the Security Council's earlier censure of its April long-range rocket launch, has already said it is restarting the plants.

On Saturday it announced it would turn all the new plutonium it reprocesses into weapons.

The claim to have developed uranium enrichment technology is alarming, said Professor Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.

"If this is true, the world would face a very disturbing situation," he told AFP. "The North has abundant natural uranium of good quality which, if combined with technology and facilities, would result in a great nuclear arsenal."

Baek warned that the United States would have to face a desperate North Korea that is more anxious than ever to show off its nuclear capability.

American TV networks have said US intelligence officials believe the North will stage a third atomic test in response to the latest UN sanctions to punish it for the May 25 nuclear test.

There is no confirmation of the North's claim that it has mastered uranium enrichment technology. But the prospect is a new concern, analysts said.

Uranium enrichment uses centrifuges to spin hot uranium gas into weapons-grade fuel, requiring a relatively small space, said Kim Yong-Hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongkuk University.

"The United States has a new challenge that, with the uranium enrichment programme, North Korea can produce nuclear materials incessantly," Kim warned.

"It would be a great concern for the US side."

Several analysts and officials believe ailing leader Kim Jong-Il, 67, is intensifying military tensions to bolster his authority as he tries to put in place a succession plan involving his youngest son, Jong-Un.

Whatever the motives, the North's longstanding goal of normalising US ties -- to end Washington's perceived threat and ease sanctions -- now seems impossible, analysts say.

"The North will face a strong backlash from the United States and the international community for lying in the past about its uranium enrichment programme," Baek said.

"Chances for normalising US-North Korean ties -- a diplomatic reward which Pyongyang formerly demanded for its nuclear disarmament -- have turned to zero."

The sanctions in themselves may not prompt the North to change course.

"North Korea is not an ordinary country which may care about isolation or sanctions," Yang said.

The key question is whether China, the North's sole major ally, will strictly enforce them.

The North's trade volume with the world, excluding South Korea, was 3.82 billion dollars in 2008, the highest figure since 1990.

Trade with China accounted for 73 percent of the total compared with just 33 percent in 2003.

The sanctions resolution agreed Friday, which does not provide for the use of force, authorises tougher inspections of suspected shipments of banned items related to nuclear and missile activities.

But China's UN Ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters the "countries concerned have to act prudently in accordance with international and domestic laws" and with "sufficient evidence."

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NKorea's Kim praises military amid nuclear standoff
Seoul (AFP) June 14, 2009
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has heaped praise on the military as his country defies United Nations sanctions by vowing to increase its nuclear arsenal, state media said Sunday. Kim highly praised the 7th Infantry Division's "militant training spirit and set forth the tasks for increasing its combat ability in every way," the communist state's official news agency reported. It did not ... read more

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