North Korea says uranium enrichment in final phase
The North offered to engage in dialogue, and said sanctions would be met by an acceleration of its nuclear program.
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North Korea says that it has entered into the "concluding stage" of uranium enrichment, which would give the country a second means of creating material for nuclear weapons. It has previously tested weapons made from plutonium.
KCNA reported that North Korea's delegation at the United Nations had written to the UN Security Council, saying Pyongyang was now ready "for both sanctions and dialogue".
"Reprocessing of spent fuel rods is at its final phase and extracted plutonium is being weaponised," it said.
"If some permanent members of the UN Security Council wish to put sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence first before we meet them in a dialogue," the delegation said.
The announcement marks a significant change in tone from Pyongyang, which in recent weeks had seemed to have adopted a more conciliatory stance toward the US and South Korea, as The Christian Science Monitor reported. If true, it also denotes a serious step-up in North Korea's nuclear capabilities.
The country has already tested two plutonium-based nuclear weapons, in October 2006 and May 2009, but uranium-based weapons pose a new threat. (For more on North Korea's nuclear program, read the Monitor's recent briefing, "How big a threat is North Korea?") The BBC notes that North Korea has significant natural uranium resources, and unlike plutonium enrichment, uranium enrichment is a process that can be easily hidden.