N. Korea still se­cretly en­rich­ing ura­nium

Sunday Express - - INTERNATIONAL - 18 In­ter­na­tional

WASH­ING­TON — North Korea has in­creased its pro­duc­tion of en­riched ura­nium for nu­clear weapons at se­cret sites in re­cent months, con­trary to Don­ald Trump’s claims that it was “no longer a nu­clear threat”, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

NBC News quoted more than a dozen US of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments. Com­ing soon af­ter satel­lite im­ages showed rapid im­prove­ments be­ing made to a North Korean nu­clear re­search fa­cil­ity at Yong­byon, the devel­op­ments will make it harder for Trump to claim that his sum­mit with Kim Jong-un in Sin­ga­pore this month was a suc­cess.

Nei­ther of the con­ces­sions the US pres­i­dent claimed Kim had de­liv­ered — the de­struc­tion of a mis­sile en­gine test­ing site, and the repa­tri­a­tion of the re­mains of US sol­diers killed in the Korean War — has ma­te­ri­alised so far.

Mean­while Trump has al­ready made a sig­nif­i­cant US con­ces­sion: sus­pend­ing joint ex­er­cises with South Korea that had been due to start in Au­gust.

The US sec­re­tary of state, Mike Pom­peo, is re­ported to be plan­ning a trip to Py­ongyang in early July to con­tinue ne­go­ti­a­tions with the North Korean govern­ment, in the hope of per­suad­ing the regime to make spe­cific com­mit­ments on nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment.

Over the past seven months the North Kore­ans have con­ducted no new mis­sile or nu­clear tests. But NBC quoted a US of­fi­cial briefed on the lat­est in­tel­li­gence as say­ing that ura­nium enrichment had been stepped up.

“There’s no ev­i­dence that they are de­creas­ing stock­piles, or that they have stopped their pro­duc­tion,” the of­fi­cial said. “There is ab­so­lutely un­equiv­o­cal ev­i­dence that they are try­ing to de­ceive the US.”

It has long been sus­pected that the North Kore­ans have es­tab­lished a ura­nium enrichment plant in at least one se­cret site apart from Yong­byon com­plex.

“There are lots of things that we know that North Korea has tried to hide from us for a long time,” a US in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial told NBC.

The joint state­ment signed by Trump and Kim in Sin­ga­pore was vaguely worded. Kim promised “com­plete de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion” but that has been Py­ongyang’s the­o­ret­i­cal pol­icy since 1992, and the regime in­ter­prets it to mean a long-term mu­tual process in which the US would also dis­arm.

Pom­peo was due to start fol­low-on ne­go­ti­a­tions with the North Korean lead­er­ship within a week of the 12 June Sin­ga­pore sum­mit. But Py­ongyang ap­pears to have dragged its heels.

The sec­re­tary of state is now hop­ing to visit Py­ongyang dur­ing a trip to the Far East in the sec­ond week of July, as first re­ported by the Fi­nan­cial Times.

“There was a de­lay but I think he has now got the agree­ment to go,” said Vic­tor Cha, a former di­rec­tor of Asian af­fairs at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

“They have to put meat on the bones of the Sin­ga­pore state­ment. Pom­peo is un­der pres­sure to get some­thing be­fore Au­gust, when the ex­er­cises were go­ing to start,” said Cha, now at the Cen­tre for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

It the visit goes ahead it is pos­si­ble Kim would or­der the repa­tri­a­tion of the re­mains of be­tween 100 and 200 US ser­vice per­son­nel killed in the 1950-53 war, to co­in­cide with Pom­peo’s ar­rival. It is a ges­ture that US of­fi­cials had been pre­dict- ing would take place last week. Trump told a rally in Min­nesota last week that the repa­tri­a­tion had al­ready hap­pened.

“Pom­peo needs to get the re­mains of the POWs and MIAs [miss­ing in ac­tion] but it’s not enough,” Cha said, ar­gu­ing the sec­re­tary of state would have to ex­tract a con­crete com­mit­ment on dis­ar­ma­ment to live up to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s claims for the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit.

— The Guardian

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