North Korea escalates nuclear stand-off

02/10/2003 11:18 - (SA)

Seoul - North Korea raised the stakes in the nuclear stand-off on Thursday, claiming it had produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for half a dozen atomic bombs and suggesting it was already building new weapons.

The statement also indicated North Korea would pull out of six-way talks aimed at ending the year-long impasse and complained that Washington has failed to meet its demand for a non-aggression pact.

A North Korea foreign ministry official said they had successfully completed reprocessing 8 000 spent fuel rods, guaranteed to yield enough plutonium for about six nuclear weapons.

"As we have already declared, the DPRK (North Korea) resumed nuclear activities for a peaceful purpose," said the statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

"As part of it, the DPRK successfully finished the reprocessing of some 8 000 spent fuel rods," the statement added.

The statement also indicated the reprocessed fuel was already being used to build more nuclear bombs.

It said that after reprocessing, North Korea "made a switchover in the use of plutonium churned out by reprocessing spent fuel rods in the direction on increasing its nuclear deterrent force."

Unbroken chain

"We will reprocess more spent fuel rods to be churned out in an unbroken chain from the five megawatt nuclear reactor in Nyongbyon without delay when we deem it necessary."

The United States believes North Korea has already developed one or two nuclear weapons and that reprocessing the fuel rods will yield enough plutonium for six more within months.

Three days of talks in Beijing in late August aimed at defusing the year-long stand-off, bringing together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States, ended inconclusively.

Washington has insisted that North Korea scrap its nuclear weapons drive before it will consider offering the Stalinist state concessions including economic and security benefits.

Despite optimistic signals this week from Japanese and US officials about the possibility of a new round of talks, North Korea said it had little faith in the process.

No promises

"As far as the resumption of the six-way talks is concerned, the DPRK did not make any promise with anyone at the Beijing talks and the same holds true even after the talks," it said.

"As the United States has no intention to drop its hostile policy, the DPRK will consistently maintain and increase its nuclear deterrent force as a just self-defensive means to repel the US pre-emptive nuclear attack and ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula."

The nuclear crisis erupted last October when Washington said the North Koreans had admitted to running a nuclear programme based on enriched uranium in violation of a 1994 nuclear freeze accord.

The pact collapsed after North Korea expelled UN nuclear inspectors and began to revive its mothballed nuclear plants to protest against a US halt to fuel oil supply for the energy-starved state.

North Korea claimed it had begun reprocessing more of the spent fuel rods to make weapons-grade plutonium in April, just prior to a first round of six-way talks. In June, it said the process was almost completed.

US and South Korean officials said they had no way of verifying the claim although South Korea's intelligence chief said in July that evidence pointed to reprocessing of "a small portion" of North Korea's stockpile of spent fuel rods.

In mid-July the White House said North Korea had informed the United States that it had completed reprocessing. Again, Washington and Seoul said they were unable to confirm the claim.,,2-10-1462_1424581,00.html