South Korea sus­pects North has more ura­nium sites

The Pak Banker - - 6international -

SEOUL/BEI­JING: South Korea added to sus­pi­cions on Tues­day that the North had al­ter­na­tive sources of en­riched ura­nium that could be used to build nu­clear weapons even as China in­sisted its ally would act with re­straint.

South Korean For­eign Min­is­ter Kim Sung-hwan said he could not con­firm a me­dia re­port that Py­ongyang had three to four plants to en­rich ura­nium but he sus­pected there were fa­cil­i­ties in the North in ad­di­tion to the Yong­byon nu­clear com­plex.

The prospect of more plants ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing ma­te­ri­als that could be used in a nu­clear weapons pro­gram raises the risk that North Korea ex­pands its nu­clear plans as it seeks to wrest con­ces­sions and aid from restart­ing dis­ar­ma­ment talks.

Last month, North Korea shelled an is­land close to a dis­puted mar­itime bound­ary with the South, killing four peo­ple and prompt­ing the United States to send an air­craft car­rier to join mil­i­tary drills with South Korea in a show of strength. "Our poli­cies have failed," said Ha­jime Izumi of Shizuoka Pre­fec­tural Uni­ver­sity in Ja­pan. "The sit­u­a­tion has caught fire and we are watch­ing it burn."

U.S. nu­clear ex­pert Siegfried Hecker, who vis­ited Yong­byon last month, had al­ready raised con­cerns that the North had al­ter­na­tive sites for ura­nium en­rich­ment.

While China has urged South Korea, the United States, Rus­sia and Ja­pan to restart "six-party" talks with the North on nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment, South Korea's al­lies have re­fused un­til Py­ongyang gives a firm com­mit­ment on nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment.

Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman Jiang Yu told re­porters that the se­nior Chi­nese en­voy to North Korea, Dai Bing­guo, had agreed in talks in Py­ongyang that nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions needed to re­sume.

"Both agreed that all sides should ex­er­cise calm and re­straint, and main­tain a re­spon­si­ble at­ti­tude to pre­vent ten­sions from es­ca­lat­ing, play­ing a pos­i­tive role in pre­serv­ing the peace and sta­bil­ity of the penin­sula," Jiang said.

Hecker was given a tour of the Yong­byon com­plex on his visit there in Novem­ber and saw more than 1,000 cen­trifuges in a build­ing that of­fi­cials in Seoul and Washington were aware was a ura­nium en­rich­ment fa­cil­ity.

Hecker was said to have been "stunned" by how mod­ern and up­dated the cen­trifuges looked, un­like the clearly ag­ing na­ture of the rest of the North's nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties. Ura­nium en­rich­ment could give the North a sec­ond source of fis­sile ma­te­rial for weapons on top of its plu­to­nium pro­duc­tion pro­gram at the Soviet-era nu­clear pro­gram at Yong­byon, which was frozen un­der a now-de­funct in­ter­na­tional dis­ar­ma­ment deal.

The re­port of ad­di­tional ura­nium en­rich­ment fa­cil­i­ties came af­ter Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov chided North Korea over its nu­clear pro­gram and con­demned an ar­tillery at­tack on a South Korean is­land that killed four peo­ple last month.

North Korean news agency KCNA again on Tues­day ac­cused Seoul of hav­ing "misled pub­lic opin­ion" over the shelling of the is­land, say­ing that it was the re­sult of a "provo­ca­tion" that aimed "to kick off the mil­i­tary clash."

Most an­a­lysts do not ex­pect North Korea to launch a new round of attacks any time soon, al­though the shelling of the is­land was the first time since the Korean War that it had tar­geted a civil­ian area. -Reuters

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