North Korea's nukes

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Los Angeles Times

North Korea is so secretive that it's uncertain whether it actually has nuclear weapons or, if it does, whether it's developing more. The danger, however, is great enough to demand more urgency. Last week's overdue announcement of a new round of talks in Beijing later this month was welcome but did little to dispel the impression of a shortsighted lethargy by the United States and other nations at risk from a nuclear North Korea.

In December 2002, North Korea expelled international nuclear inspectors, withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and threatened to begin extracting plutonium from 8,000 fuel rods. Last month, a private U.S. group, including members who had dealt with North Korea in the past, visited the Yongbyon plant where the fuel rods had been kept and reported them missing. Are they being used as fuel for nuclear weapons to add to the one or two the CIA thinks Pyongyang already possesses? No one knows. ...

The U.S. will try to present a unified position with China, Japan, South Korea and Russia when it talks to North Korea for only the second time in half a year. There is little reason to expect a breakthrough beyond freezing Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. Such a freeze is likely to require U.S. assurances ... that it plans no aggression against North Korea. The ultimate goal is to get North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons, if any, and stop trying to develop more. To get all that, and the return of international inspectors, will require large amounts of foreign aid, with the U.S. and Japan taking the lead.

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