US envoy arrives in Seoul amid 'stunning' report on new North Korea nuclear facility
US envoy to North Korea Stephen Bosworth arrived in Seoul Sunday to meet with South Korean officials to discuss how resume six-party talks on denuclearizing North Korea.
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The report from American nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, a professor at Stanford University, describes a recent visit to a uranium-enrichment facility that he described as “astonishingly modern” and able to fit into any American processing plant.Skip to next paragraph
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“Instead of seeing a few small cascades of centrifuges, which I believed to exist in North Korea, we saw a modern, clean centrifuge plant of more than a thousand centrifuges, all neatly aligned and plumbed below us,” he wrote in his report, according to the Associated Press.
Mr. Hecker also said that the plant seemed to be for civilian use but looked like they could be “readily converted” to facilities to produce highly enriched uranium bomb fuel.
American officials know the plant did not exist in 2009, when inspectors were thrown out, the New York Times reports, adding that the speed with which it was built suggests the isolated and desperately poor country had foreign help.
The Associated Press speculates that in addition to trying to resume the international nuclear disarmament-for-aid talks, North Korean might have chosen to show the formerly secret plant to Hecker now because it looks to strengthen its military appearance as the aging Kim Jong Il is preparing to transfer power to a younger, untested son.
Whatever the reasons for showing the plant now, the Council on Foreign Relations notes that North Korea’s presentation and use of its nuclear program increases the perception that nuclear capabilities serve as a bargaining chip:
North Korea became the first state to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and test nuclear devices: the first outright failure of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and an ominous development. Iran, though still a nominal party to the NPT, has long been in violation of its nonproliferation obligations during its quest to become a nuclear power. ... [T]hey have generated pressure on rivals to look to offsetting capabilities. They may also lead some to perceive that nuclear weapons can provide status and bargaining leverage.