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North Korea Boosts Nuke Making Potential

Satellite file photo of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

Pyongyang, North Korea (UPI) Dec 07, 2005
North Korea is increasing its industrial capabilities to make nuclear weapons. The continued operation of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor without international inspectors' supervision and successful tests of a new solid-fuel rocket engine have enabled the so-called Hermit Kingdom to make further progress toward being able to produce and deliver such weapons, Arms Control Today reported in its December issue.

Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided new details about North Korea's nuclear program during a Nov. 8 presentation in Washington, D.C., the journal said. Hecker visited North Korea in August of this year as well as in January 2004. He said North Korea has been able to produce enough plutonium for six to eight nuclear weapons since resuming operations at Yongbyon in early 2003.

The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Pyongyang acquired enough plutonium for one or two nuclear weapons before freezing operations of its nuclear facilities under the 1994 Agreed Framework.

Under that bilateral agreement with the United States, North Korea agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor the freeze, which included its five-megawatt graphite-moderated nuclear reactor and related facilities, as well as approximately 8,000 spent fuel rods. But after the most recent North Korean nuclear crisis started in October 2002, Pyongyang ejected the inspectors, announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, restarted the reactor, and claimed to have reprocessed the spent fuel to obtain plutonium for nuclear weapons.

In the ongoing six-party talks, which are designed to persuade North Korea to abandon its current nuclear programs, the United States has refused to negotiate an interim agreement with North Korea that would freeze Yongbyon's facilities.

It is unclear whether Pyongyang's reprocessing claim is true, ACT noted. Hecker's North Korean interlocutors claimed during his first visit, which included a trip to the reprocessing facility at Yongbyon, that reprocessing was completed in June 2003. Hecker was not able to verify this claim but noted in his presentation that it would be technically feasible.

related report
U.S. criticism of N. Korea sparks unease
Seoul (UPI) Dec 07 - The United States has toughened its stand against North Korea's alleged counterfeiting, money laundering and weapons exports, causing uncertainty in South Korea, which is hoping for an early resumption of suspended multilateral talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, the newly appointed U.S. envoy to South Korea, said Wednesday his country would not negotiate on the issue of economic sanctions, calling North Korea a "criminal regime" engaged in sales of weapons and drug trade.

In a news conference in Seoul, Vershbow accused North Korea of "creating an artificial obstacle" to progress at the six-nation discussions aimed at dismantling its nuclear weapons programs.

"We are ready to negotiate the nuclear issue, but right now it's North Korea creating the artificial obstacle to the progress," he said.

He cited North Korea's export of dangerous technology, narcotics trafficking, money laundering and the counterfeiting of U.S. dollar.

"This is a criminal regime," he said in the first meetings with South Korea's influential senior journalists' group.

Vershbow recently took over the post, replacing Christopher Hill, who is now the top U.S. negotiator to end North Korea's nuclear drive.

"We can't somehow remove our sanctions as a political gesture when this regime is engaging in dangerous activities such as weapons exports to rogue states, narcotics trafficking as a state activity and counterfeiting of our money on a large scale," Vershbow said.

The U.S. envoy also linked North Korea's production of counterfeit U.S. bills with the exploits of the late German dictator Adolf Hitler. During World War II, the Nazis circulated forged British pounds in hopes of provoking a fall of the British currency.

"According to an observer, North Korea is the first regime that has done that since Adolf Hitler," he said.

"This issue of North Korea's criminal behavior is not new. What is new is that some of the steps we have taken in the last few months, including raising our concerns of Macau Delta Asia, we succeeded in disrupting some of North Korea's criminal activities and they are feeling some pressure from this," he said.

In September, the U.S. Treasury Department suspended transactions between its financial institutions and Macau-based Banco Delta Asia because it was said to be involved in North Korea's money laundering and fake currency distribution.

Banco Delta Asia has denied the allegations, but cut off transactions with the communist state, choking off its cash flow amid speculation that North Korea used the bank accounts as private funds for its leader, Kim Jong Il.

The U.S. administration also froze the U.S.-based assets of eight North Korean companies suspected of being linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. U.S. officials suspect the illegal activities have helped finance Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

In a furious response, North Korea threatened to boycott the six-way nuclear talks unless the United States lifts its financial sanctions, saying "it is impossible to resume the six-party talks under such provocative sanctions applied by the United States."

Pyongyang said the sanctions breached the spirit of a September agreement under which it agreed in principle to disband its nuclear weapons program in return for economic and diplomatic benefits. But the United States said its legal action on counterfeiting is not a matter for negotiation and should not be linked to the nuclear issue.

The U.S. administration "is not going to negotiate over economic sanctions that have been imposed in accordance with U.S. law," Vershbow said. "It's up to North Korea to end the behavior that led to those sanctions," he said.

The envoy also urged North Korea give up its nuclear weapons drive.

"North Korea has tremendous economic and social problems, none of which will be solved by the pursuit of nuclear weapons," Vershbow said.

The comments prompted South Korea to urge restraint. Seoul is concerned the dispute may upset hard-won dialogue to defuse the standoff.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon called on the United States to refrain from using provocative words against North Korea, saying Seoul was working to resume the six-nation nuclear talks in mid-January.

Upon arriving in Seoul from an eight-day trip to Europe, Ban urged the North and the United States to resolve the dispute over financial sanctions bilaterally.

"The countries involved (in the six-party talks) need to have the wisdom to exercise restraint in their expressions directed against the other countries," he said.

Cho Tae-yong, chief of the Foreign Ministry's task force on the nuclear issue, expressed uneasiness about the criticism by the U.S. ambassador.

"It is not desirable to make such comments provoking a dialogue partner at a time when the six-way talks are at critical juncture," he told reporters.

Source: United Press International

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US Wants Informal Six Nation NKorea Talks Dec 19
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 07, 2005
The United States wants an "informal" meeting this month in South Korea of the six nations negotiating on North Korea's nuclear program in the wake of Pyongyang's threat to boycott talks, reports said Wednesday.

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