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North Korea seeks international attention with uranium claim

The North, which wants one-on-one talks with the US, said it's open to dialogue and had entered the "completion phase" of developing highly enriched uranium.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 4, 2009

North Korea's notice to the United Nations Security Council that it's on the verge of developing nuclear warheads with highly enriched uranium appears as a grab for the attention of the US and other major powers. The North's expertise in uranium would mark a significant escalation of its potential as a nascent nuclear power.

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North Korea's UN mission confirmed that the North's UN ambassador, Sin Son-ho, had sent the letter in response to sanctions imposed by the Security Council on June 12, 18 days after the North conducted its second underground test of a plutonium bomb on May 25.

"It's an expression of impatience," says Kim Tae-woo, senior fellow of the Korean Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. "North Korea wants an immediate response from the international community."

The announcement comes as Stephen Bosworth, the US envoy to North Korea, is visiting the region for talks with North Korea's neighbors. He told reporters in Beijing that the North's claim was "of concern," but he has no plans to visit Pyongyang.

History of boasting

The secretive regime has long boasted of producing plutonium for warheads at its complex at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of the capital Pyongyang, but was believed to be only in the early phases of developing highly enriched uranium.

Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency also raised the specter of an expanding plutonium program, saying that "reprocessing of spent fuel rods is in its final phase and extracted plutonium being weaponized."

The North's Korean Central News Agency, reporting the letter, said North Korea was ready for "dialogue and sanctions" but that the North had "no choice but to take yet stronger self-defensive countermeasures."

The need for self-defense has been the North's rationale for its nuclear program through negotiations beginning in the early 1990s.

These talks culminated in the 1994 Geneva framework agreement under which North Korea shut down its five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon and placed the complex under the eyes of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency in return for the promise of construction of twin light water nuclear energy reactors to help meet the needs for power for the North's failing economy.