Skip to comments.North Korean sale to terrorists feared
Posted on 02/05/2003 12:48:29 PM PST by Indy Pendance
WASHINGTON A senior Bush administration official has warned that North Korea, if allowed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel rods, could sell some of that fissile material to terrorists and other enemies of the United States who are seeking to build nuclear weapons.
The official, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, told senators on Capitol Hill that North Korea's recent moves toward restarting a plutonium reprocessing facility could enable the country to build four to six new nuclear weapons within months.
But Armitage also predicted that North Korea, which is struggling to feed its people, would have sufficient bomb-grade plutonium to sell or trade to "a nonstate actor or a rogue state."
"I believe that the arms race in North Korea pales next to the possibility of proliferation, which is our major fear, from North Korea - that she would pass on fissile material and other nuclear technology to either transnational actors or to rogue states," Armitage said Tuesday.
Armitage also confirmed to the senators that Pakistan had helped North Korea develop its nuclear weapons program, saying technology transfers between the two countries had gone "both ways." He declined to provide details, however, saying Pakistan had assured the administration that such transfers had ended.
Administration officials have in the past been willing to acknowledge only in private that North Korea provided missile technology to Pakistan in exchange for assistance in enriching uranium for weapons.
Armitage's warnings about the threat of North Korean proliferation came just five days after American officials reported that spy satellites over North Korea had detected what appeared to be trucks moving some of the country's stockpile of 8,000 spent fuel rods out of storage at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
Intelligence officials have concluded that North Korea, which is thought to have one or two nuclear weapons now, could begin producing bomb-grade plutonium from the rods by late March.
The possibility that North Korea could soon begin selling the raw materials for nuclear weapons, while Iraq's ability to produce those materials remains in doubt, prompted questions from both Republican and Democratic senators about why the Bush administration felt the urgent need to use military force to disarm Iraq.
Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, asked whether North Korea's potential capacity to sell raw materials for nuclear bombs to terrorists made it "far more dangerous" than Iraq.
Armitage replied that "it's quite a different situation in Iraq" because Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, wanted to "intimidate, dominate and attack" his neighbors.
"We're not quite sure that's the motivation of Kim Jong Il," Armitage said, referring to the North Korean leader. "I think he wants to use it for economic benefits - sell, barter, whatever."
The Bush administration has said that it is committed to a diplomatic solution to the North Korean crisis and has no plans to attack North Korea.
But on Monday, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, put 24 long-range bombers on alert for possible deployment to the Pacific. The move appeared to be intended to deter aggressive moves by North Korea in the event American goes to war in Iraq, as well as to give President George W. Bush military options if diplomacy fails.
The commander of U.S. forces in South Korea also announced on Tuesday that 2,900 American soldiers might be held past the end of their tours to ensure that all units remained "at 100 percent" strength.
But the commander, General Leon LaPorte, denied that the move was a device for adding to the 37,000 troops already in Korea. He promised to consult with South Korean military officials if more troops were needed "to ensure deterrence and preserve the peace of the Korean Peninsula."
North Korea condemned the Pentagon's moves on Tuesday, accusing the United States of plotting "to dominate the Korean Peninsula." But the harsh oratory was not accompanied by any sign of movement or buildup of North Korean units above the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas.
Still, North Korea's party newspaper heightened concerns by advising the country's 1.8 million reservists to rally around the North Korean leader. North Korea has approximately 1.1 million full-time troops.
While the Pentagon's moves seemed to leave open the option of military action against North Korea, Armitage repeatedly emphasized Tuesday that the administration was prepared to hold direct, one-to-one talks with North Korea, provided its neighbors - Russia, China, South Korea and Japan - assisted in resolving the crisis.
"We're going to have to have direct talks with the North Koreans, there's no question about it," Armitage said.
No, they're not struggling to feed their people. They could care less if they starve. If they really wanted to feed their people, they would free their markets and open up their country.
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