North Korea blows up tower at nuclear site – but questions remain about its program
The North's actions set the stage for another round in six-party talks, scheduled to take place next week in Beijing.
SEOUL, South Korea
The flash and bang of the explosion of the cooling tower at North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex provided a theatrical coda to a week in which the isolated nation partially declared its nuclear efforts and the United States, in response, took initial steps to remove the North from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.Skip to next paragraph
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The squat 60-foot tower, the most visible symbol of the complex where North Korea has been producing weapons-grade plutonium, was toppled in an event documented by networks from each of the countries participating in six-nation talks with the North. CNN, Japan's NHK network, South Korea's Munhwa Broadcasting Corp., and Chinese and Russian national networks were to have broadcast the explosion live – but videotaped shots of the tower tumbling in a cloud of smoke were shown several hours later.
South Korea's ruling Grand National Party and the opposition United Democratic Party agreed on the significance of the declaration. A spokesman for the conservative GNP called the declaration and demolition together "a historic day," while a spokesman for the liberal opposition called these events "a step on the road to peace.
Despite the dramatic gesture, however, analysts here remain skeptical as to whether the measures will have much long-range impact on progress toward denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
"I am not impressed," says Kim Tae Woo, a senior fellow at the Korean Institute of Defense Analyses, affiliated with the Defense Ministry. "What the US is doing is for political effect. The declaration is becoming a political game. Both nations [the US and North Korea] are doing political negotiations."
North Korea "still has a minimal nuclear deterrent," says Mr. Kim. "North Korea will keep it to the last moment" – that is, after extracting a vast infusion of aid and concessions beyond removal from the US list of nations sponsoring terrorism and removal of US economic sanctions as promised by President Bush.
"Destruction of the tower is a symbolic event," says Lim Dong Won, architect of South Korea's efforts at reconciliation with North Korea during the presidency of Kim Dae Jung, whose Sunshine policy set the pattern of a decade of dialog with North Korea before the election of the conservative Lee Myung Bak in December. "It provides a good picture."
Still, Mr. Lim, author of a new book on his role in bringing about dialog with North Korea, predicts that President Lee will back down from the hard-line policy that he set toward North Korea after his inauguration in February.
"Inter-Korean relations have been frozen," says Lim. "I hope this can be melted soon."
Lim predicts Mr. Lee "will come up with more realistic measures" in the aftermath of North Korea's delivery of a declaration of its activities at Yongbyon, where North Korea has fabricated at least six nuclear warheads in recent years. "Shutting down the nuclear facilities has been finished," he says.