The Trail of N. Korea's Nuclear Bid
Pyongyang's spies have been caught seeking components and rocket scientists in Russia
IS North Korea trying to clandestinely develop nuclear weapons and the rockets to deliver them? The answer to that question, which is now absorbing world leaders, may be found in Russia.Skip to next paragraph
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On Wednesday, Russian intelligence officials revealed two recent incidents in which North Korean spies were caught seeking to acquire the component parts for producing nuclear weapons. Five North Koreans were expelled in March for those activities, the Federal Counter-Intelligence Service said.
In a speech in the Far Eastern Russian city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, intelligence chief Sergei Stepashin said his agency has a ``special concern'' over the activities of North Korean secret services in Russia. He revealed that three more North Koreans were detained early this week in the Far Eastern Primorskoye territory on similar charges of seeking nuclear weapons components. A North Korean Embassy official in Moscow denied both incidents, calling them ``misinformation.''
The North Korean regime has repeatedly denied that it either has nuclear weapons or is trying to develop them. But these alleged espionage activities are only the latest in a long pattern of North Korean attempts to gain access to Russian technology and scientists to enable it to build nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them.
Despite this evidence, the Russian government has taken a cautious stance toward North Korea's recent announced withdrawal from international nuclear safeguards programs. Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said earlier this week Russia would support sanctions as an ``extreme measure.''
But yesterday Mr. Kozyrev criticized a US draft resolution for phased sanctions, saying it was contrary to an understanding reached between the US and Russian presidents. The US plan fails, he says, to give equal weight to a Russian proposal to first hold an international conference to try to resolve the controversy.
At the same time, Russian officials admit North Korea has been secretly trying to gain Russian aid for its nuclear and missile programs. In the most serious incident known to date, the North Koreans in 1992 recruited a group of 64 Russian rocket scientists employed at a secret Urals military facility which is responsible for the design and development of the Soviet Union's arsenal of submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The group was stopped at the airport in late October 1992 as they were leaving, accompanied by their wives and children, to work in North Korea.
From published sources and interviews, including with a scientist in the group, the Monitor has assembled an account of the North Korean operation that suggests a well-organized effort to steal Russian secrets.
The operation began in February 1992 when a certain Anatoly Rubtsov approached the V.P. Makeyev Design Bureau of Mechanical Engineering in the closed Urals city of Miass with a proposal for researchers to work abroad in China and North Korea.