SEOUL, South Korea – The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has warned of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula while vowing to step up its atomic bomb-making program in defiance of new UN sanctions.
A commentary Sunday in the DPRK's Rodong Sinmun newspaper, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, claimed the US has 1,000 nuclear weapons in the Republic of Korea (ROK). Another commentary published Saturday in the Tongil Sinbo weekly claimed the US has been deploying a vast amount of nuclear weapons in the ROK and Japan.
The ROK soldiers patrol near the border village of Panmunjom that separates the DPRK and the ROK since 1950, in Paju, north of Seoul, Sunday, June 14, 2009. [Agencies]
The DPRK "is completely within the range of US nuclear attack and the Korean peninsula is becoming an area where the chances of a nuclear war are the highest in the world," the Tongil Sinbo commentary said.
Kim Yong-kyu, a spokesman at the US military command in Seoul, called the latest accusation "baseless," saying Washington has no nuclear bombs in the ROK. US tactical nuclear weapons were removed from the ROK in 1991 as part of arms reductions following the Cold War.
On Saturday, the DPRK's Foreign Ministry threatened war on any country that dared to stop its ships on the high seas under the new sanctions approved by the UN Security Council on Friday as punishment for the DPRK's latest nuclear test.
It is not clear if the statements are simply rhetorical. Still, they are a huge setback for international attempts to rein in the DPRK's nuclear ambitions following its second nuclear test on May 25. It first tested a nuclear device in 2006.
In its Saturday's statement, the DPRK said it has been enriching uranium to provide fuel for its light-water reactor. It was the first public acknowledgment the DPRK is running a uranium enrichment program in addition to its known plutonium-based program. The two radioactive materials are key ingredients in making atomic bombs.
On Sunday, Yonhap news agency reported the ROK and the US have mobilized spy satellites, reconnaissance aircraft and human intelligence networks to obtain evidence that the DPRK has been running a uranium enrichment program.
The ROK Defense Ministry said it cannot confirm the report. The National Intelligence Service — the ROK's main spy agency — was not available for comment.
The DPRK said more than one-third of 8,000 spent fuel rods in its possession has been reprocessed and all the plutonium extracted would be used to make atomic bombs. The country could harvest 13-18 pounds (6-8 kilograms) of plutonium — enough to make at least one nuclear bomb — if all the rods are reprocessed.
In addition, the DPRK is believed to have enough plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs.
The DPRK says its nuclear program is a deterrent against the US, which it routinely accuses of plotting to topple its regime. Washington, which has 28,500 troops in the ROK, has repeatedly said it has no such intention.
The new UN sanctions are aimed at depriving the DPRK of the financing used to build its nuclear program. The resolution also authorized searches of the DPRK's ships suspected of transporting illicit ballistic missile and nuclear materials.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the new UN penalties provide the necessary tools to help check the DPRK's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The sanctions show that "the DPRK's pursuit of nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver those weapons through missiles is not going to be accepted by the neighbors as well as the greater international community," Clinton said Saturday at a news conference in Canada.