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US to look into North Korea's missile threat

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 24, 2007
The United States will address the threat posed by North Korea's missiles once the Stalinist state disbands its nuclear weapons program, a State Department official said Friday.

At present, the United States together with China, Russia, South Korea and Japan are holding talks with North Korea aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang has shut down its key Yongbyon nuclear reactor under a six-party agreement reached on February 13 and is negotiating to move on to the next stage of declaring and disabling its nuclear program.

"The discussion framework in the six-party talks is a discussion framework about the nuclear weapons program in North Korea," deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation Donald Mahley said.

"Obviously once we have that very real threat out of the way, if that happens, then we will have ways and means to address other issues with North Korea, such as their missile program and missile proliferation," he told reporters.

That included "the prospect of whether or not they have and are willing therefore to abolish any other weapons of mass destruction programs they have," he said.

North Korea test-fired a long-range missile in 1998 and carried out its first nuclear test last October. It has fired several short-range missiles during military exercises already this year.

Mahley also said that the United States wanted North Korea's "complete, irreversible disablement" of its nuclear program and that Washington was confident that such a process could be verified efficiently.

"There is a lot of leeway or gap between that and the technical details of how on the ground you are going to make sure that that happens," Mahley said.

"But let me say that I have full faith and confidence that if given access, we will be able to figure out how to make sure that that is an irreversible dismantlement of the program, and that is our objective," he explained.

The United States has insisted the hardline communist nation come clean on all its nuclear weapons programs under the "declare and disable" process of the denuclearization exercise.

There is suspicion that North Korea is running a secretive highly enriched uranium program in addition to the projects it has already admitted to, which were mainly centered on the plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon.

Both highly enriched uranium and plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Asked how the United States is going to determine whether North Korea would declare its entire nuclear program, Mahley emphasized on the dismantlement aspect of the atomic weapons arsenal.

"Our confidence in the dismantlement of their program will not be based on North Korean statements. It will be based on on the ground examination by both ourselves and the International Atomic Energy Agency to an area in which we can then have full confidence that we have sound information that the program has been completely and irreversibly dismantled," he said.

"It will not be based on statements made by the North Korean government," he said.

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