Seoul (AFP) Feb 20, 2007
South Korea's intelligence chief was quoted as saying Tuesday that he believes North Korea has a secret uranium enrichment programme, in addition to its plutonium-based nuclear weapons project. "We believe (the programme) exists," Kim Man-Bok, the head of the National Intelligence Service, told a closed-door parliamentary committee, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting.
Kim was answering a question on whether the North is operating a highly-enriched uranium (HEU) programme, the lawmakers told Yonhap news agency on condition of anonymity.
US claims that the North has such a programme led to the collapse in 2002 of a previous deal to dismantle its nuclear facilities. A new agreement reached last week in Beijing did not directly address the HEU issue.
Under the February 13 deal reached during six-party talks the North, which conducted its first nuclear test last October, agreed to disable its nuclear facilities in exchange for badly-needed energy aid.
As a first step it will shut down and seal its Yongbyon plutonium-producing reactor within 60 days, admit UN nuclear inspectors and receive 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent assistance in return.
Action to permanently disable the nuclear facilities would be rewarded with up to 950,000 tons of heavy oil or other aid.
Critics say the deal does not immediately address either the North's existing nuclear weapons and plutonium stockpile, or its suspected uranium-based programme, which the communist state has never publicly admitted.
Estimates vary but most experts believe the North has produced enough plutonium to make six to eight nuclear bombs.
The White House said Sunday the Beijing agreement is just the first step "in a long series that includes the complete renunciation of nuclear weaponry and facilities within North Korea."
Under the deal the North must eventually submit a list of its nuclear facilities and programmes, including any uranium-based one.
earlier related report
"We're going to be sending a diplomatic group to North Korea in the not too distant future, the next few weeks, to put down some benchmarks about the restoration of our bilateral diplomatic relationship," Howard said after discussing North Korea with US President George W. Bush.
Howard, whose government is one of a handful to maintain diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, said he and Bush spoke on the phone late Monday and were "realistically optimistic" about the landmark nuclear accord struck during multi-party talks last week.
"We want to go along with the agreement," Howard told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, adding that the latest accord was better than a similar one struck between arch foes North Korea and the United States in 1994.
"It does involve China and the other members of the six-party group and I think that's a great advantage," he said, as Japan refused to fund the deal amid jitters over North Korea's reliability.
At six-nation talks in Beijing last week, economically crippled and fuel-starved North Korea agreed to start disabling its nuclear facilities in exchange for badly needed energy aid.
As an initial move, it will close down and seal its Yongbyon reactor -- long suspected to be the centre of its nuclear programme -- within 60 days, admit UN nuclear inspectors and receive 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent assistance in return. Further steps to disable nuclear facilities would be rewarded with up to 950,000 tons of heavy oil or other aid, while Washington also agreed to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and begin normalizing relations with it.
But critics of the deal claim it does not tackle Pyongyang's existing weapons or plutonium stockpile, or its suspected uranium-based weapons research programme.
Many have expressed doubts about whether North Korea will live up to its side of the deal, after Pyongyang was strongly suspected of running a clandestine nuclear programme despite its 1994 deal with Washington.
Given its ties with North Korea, Australia could well play a role in providing some of the fuel promised as part of the deal and help smooth over some difficulties.
Howard said the Australian diplomatic team headed to Pyongyang would aim to ensure that the secretive and unpredictable regime kept its side of the bargain this time and would also aim to mend ties strained over recent years.
"Like all of these understandings we must make sure that North Korea is kept up to its commitments," Howard said.
The delegation to North Korea will also "discuss some benchmarks that might be established to resume our diplomatic relations," Howard said. In October, Canberra banned North Korean ships from its ports as it moved to ramp up sanctions against the Stalinist state after it staged its maiden nuclear test, sending diplomatic shockwaves across the globe.
Howard said recent developments indicated how crucial the US role in maintaining peace and security in Asia was.
"(North Korea) does remain, in our region, an issue of enormous ongoing concern.
"It does drive home to us again the importance of the United States' security involvement in our part of the world," he said.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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US Panel Doubts North Korea Will Give Up Nuclear Weapons
Washington (AFP) Feb 16, 2007
Four days after a landmark nuclear accord with North Korea, an independent US report warned Friday that the Stalinist state's leader, Kim Jong-Il, continues to distrust Washington and views US aid as a "poison apple." The report by an influential panel of Asia specialists also ruled out the possibility of Kim emulating China's former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in embracing economic reforms to open up reclusive and impoverished North Korea.
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