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North Korea announced on Tuesday that it had successfully reprocessed fuel rods to produce enough arms-grade plutonium for use in another atomic weapon. The state began reprocessing the spent fuel rods in April when it reversed disarmament actions agreed to in 2007 and 2008. Analysts see the announcement as an attempt to put pressure on the US for bilateral talks, which could lead to the resumption of six-party disarmament negotiations.
"We have finished reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods as of August. We have made substantial achievements in weaponising plutonium from the extraction," Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said….
Experts said North Korea might be able to produce enough material for one more atomic weapon from the fuel rods cooling at the Soviet-era plant, which was being taken apart under a disarmament-for-aid deal.
The announcement comes a day after North Korea repeated its call for direct talks with the US. On Monday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman threatened that North Korea would "go its own way" if the US declined to participate in direct talks, reported The Christian Science Monitor.
The message represents a clear attempt to ratchet up pressure on the US as North Korea pursues its longtime goal of negotiating with the US while isolating South Korea. North Korea has long sought dialogue with the US, never more so than in recent weeks. The question is whether the North, if talks are not held soon, will precipitate another "crisis."…
North Korea's strongly worded remarks appeared as a follow-up to an uncertain meeting in New York on Oct. 24 between Ri Gun, the second-ranking North Korean nuclear negotiator, and Sung Kim, the US nuclear negotiator who ranks second to Stephen Bosworth, US special envoy on Korea.
"They (North Korea) are just telling us that they are biding their time and increasing pressure on the United States ahead of bilateral talks," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the South's University of North Korean Studies.
North Korea has not publicly set an agenda for bilateral talks. According to The Christian Science Monitor, Pyongyang is expected to demand an end to US sanctions, treatment as a nuclear-power equal, and an agreement to "remove South Korea from the US nuclear umbrella" by removing US troops from the country, in return for disarming.
According to The New York Times, Washington has said it would not engage in direct talks with North Korea unless Pyongyang returned to the six-party talks that also include South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia. US officials also intend to continue enforcing sanctions imposed by the United Nations in May this year, after the North tested its second nuclear missile.
The Wall Street Journal adds that the US prefers meeting North Korea with other diplomats present because of Pyongyang's record of breaking promises made during bilateral talks.
Also on Tuesday, the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, released a report that concludes that China is more concerned about North Korea's stability and views the control of Pyongyang's nuclear aspirations as the responsibility of the US, reports Agence France-Presse.
Beijing backed new United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang but its strategic calculations remain unchanged, the ICG said. It would continue to shield its neighbour from the effect of stronger sanctions….
[China's] greatest concerns were a possible military confrontation between North Korea and the US, regime collapse, a flood of hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees into China, or "precipitous reunification" with South Korea leading to a US military presence north of the 38th parallel.