North Korea reveals a nuclear plant. The US says it's not concerned.
Even though US envoy to North Korea Stephen Bosworth gave no hint of military escalation, he's gone to Seoul and Tokyo seeking support to deescalate North Korea's nuclear program.
(Page 3 of 3)
Analysts here saw the North’s decision to show Siegfried Hecker around the nuclear facility as a carefully contrived plan to bring the US back to six-party talks on the North’s terms.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“They want visitors to take back the news of what they’re doing, to start the negotiations,” says Robert Collins, a former intelligence analyst with the US military command here. “They use people to come in and show them something." The thinking goes, he says, "If Siegfried Hecker is impressed, the rest of us should be impressed.”
Mr. Collins and other analysts believe construction of the plant basically “confirms what everyone knew” – that North Korea has a uranium enrichment program entirely separate from the aging five-megawatt reactor that intelligence analysts believe has made enough material, with plutonium at its core, for a dozen nuclear warheads.
After the uranium program was first revealed in October 2002 by a senior North Korean official to a visiting team of American negotiators, North Korea strongly denied anything to do with enriched uranium. North Korea had reversed this strategy and acknowledged the uranium program before inviting Hecker and Pritchard to the Yongbyon complex. Hecker said over the weekend the uranium reactor already has 2,000 centrifuges and described it as “stunning.”
'We have been undervaluing their progress'
“We have been undervaluing their progress in uranium enrichment,” says Ha Tae-keung, president of North Korea Open Radio, which gets information by cellphone from contacts in North Korea. “They are trying to prepare for the third nuclear experiment. They are hinting there’s a third nuclear test coming up.”
Mr. Ha says North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il believes, “If they just have a few nuclear devices, it will make them a good nuclear negotiator.” Then, when they get to six-party talks, they will divert the discussion, he says, from abandoning nuclear warheads to “demilitarization” – meaning withdrawal of the remaining 27,000 US troops, including the Seventh Air Force, from South Korea.
Kim Tae-woo, senior fellow at the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses, says North Korea, by building a second reactor, was “legitimizing their enrichment, using it as a tool which can legitimize their activities. “
He notes that the new reactor was on the same site where North Korean scientists blew up a cooling tower in June 2008 in a display carried live around the world on television networks as evidence the North was giving up its nuclear program. The cooling tower is assumed to have been outmoded and already useless.
Mr. Kim is pessimistic about getting China to persuade North Korea to back down from its nuclear activities. “China is getting stronger and tougher,” he says. “North Korea by increasing its capability is bringing all kinds of side effects to South Korea. They want to increase their leverage.”