North Korea: No problem in making nuke bombs
( 2003-10-04 11:10) (Agencies)
North Korea escalated nuclear tensions on Friday by declaring it has solved "all the technological matters" involved in using plutonium extracted from nuclear fuel rods to build atomic bombs.
North Korea said a day earlier it had completed reprocessing the rods and had started using plutonium to make nuclear weapons as a deterrent against what it calls a US plan to invade. Washington says it has no intention of invading and Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions are a "serious concern" to the international community.
"All the technological matters have been solved fully in the process of making a switchover in the use of plutonium," said North Korea's official news agency, KCNA. It was impossible to independently verify the claim because the country has expelled international inspectors from its nuclear facilities.
North Korea "will maintain and steadily increase its nuclear deterrent force as a self-defensive means to cope with the (United States') ever more undisguised threat to mount a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the DPRK," the news agency said.
When reprocessed with chemicals, the 8,000 rods can yield enough plutonium to make five or six bombs, experts say. U.S. intelligence analysts believe North Korea already has at least one or two nuclear bombs.
The North has made similar claims about its nuclear capabilities since the crisis over its nuclear projects started a year ago. It was unclear whether the announcement was a sign North Korea has turned its back on the possibility of giving up its nuclear ambitions or was an attempt to gain leverage ahead of talks.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said North Korea's neighbors should urge Pyongyang "to stop moving in this direction" and to "continue to participate in the diplomacy that is under way."
"We are examining ways, in cooperation with our colleagues in the area, to provide the kinds of security assurances that might help to move the process further along," Powell said. "I believe that this is a matter of the most serious concern for the international community."
Japan reminded North Korea it promised at a multilateral meeting in Beijing that it wouldn't escalate the nuclear standoff. "Considering that, what the North has done is regrettable," Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov urged North Korea not to
rule out taking part in another round of talks aimed at easing tension over its
nuclear arsenal. "Any talks are better than war," Losyukov said, according to
the Interfax news agency.
"If we react too sensitively, it could only aggravate the already tense situation," he said.
Roh reiterated Friday that concerns over North Korea's nuclear ambitions make it difficult for him to decide to send South Korean troops to help U.S. forces in Iraq.
"What worries me the most is ... a scenario in which I decide to send troops to Iraq and then North Korea takes strong measures, as it has often done in the past, regarding the reprocessing, plutonium, nuclear weapons and missiles, and the situation on the Korean Peninsula worsens rapidly," Roh said.
Senior U.N. envoy Maurice Strong met North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon for about 30 minutes on Thursday at the United Nations, and said Pyongyang was still offering to drop its nuclear weapons program if the United States promises not to attack.
"He made it very clear that his government is committed to abandoning its nuclear weapons program, to subjecting itself to internationally agreed inspections and verification procedures, and that their primary concern is their security," Strong said in New York.
Strong said, however, that Choe reiterated North Korea's stance that the United States' "hostile" posture means the North will continue with its nuclear program.
North Korea said the reactor in its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang, was operating normally and will produce more spent fuel rods.
KCNA said the reprocessing of the 8,000 spent rods was successfully finished
by the end of June. North Korea had made the claim earlier, but U.S. officials
have expressed doubts over it. North Korea may have reprocessed some rods after
U.N. inspectors left the country in January, U.S. officials believe, but the
number is unclear.
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