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North Korean Nuclear Work Poses Greater Threat Than Iran, Amano Says

March 12, 2012


International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano on Saturday said he believes the threat posed by Iran’s atomic activities is eclipsed by the dangers of North Korea’s known nuclear-weapon efforts, Kyodo News reported (see GSN, March 9).

The North’s development of nuclear weapons, which includes two nuclear tests to date, is a “threat to East Asia,” the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said.

“The problem (with North Korea) is serious and its impact on the world is larger” than Iran, Amano said. His organization and a number of governments around the world worry that Iran is seeking a nuclear-weapon capability; Tehran maintains that its atomic development program is strictly peaceful (see related GSN story, today).

The veteran Japanese diplomat said he hopes to dispatch IAEA monitors to North Korea to verify implementation of a recently agreed-to shutdown of uranium enrichment work and other “nuclear activities” at the nation’s Yongbyon atomic complex. Pyongyang offered those concessions to the Obama administration as part of a February deal in which it would receive 240,000 metric tons of food aid from the United States.

Amano would not specify when the Vienna, Austria-based agency would convene with North Korean diplomats to work out the details for a return of inspectors to the North, saying only that the nuclear watchdog was “assessing the situation.”

The agency presently has only a “limited” understanding of the North’s atomic activities, according to Amano, who added that it has “absolutely no idea about the current situation in Yongbyon.”

Agency inspectors were ordered out of Yongbyon in April 2009 and have not been permitted back to North Korea since.

“It will take a considerable time” for IAEA monitors to resume inspections at Yongbyon, Amano said, citing the need to work out with Pyongyang and the United States the scope of permitted inspection activities (Kyodo News/Mainichi Daily News, March 11).

Following a private conversation in Washington on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan called on Pyongyang to carry out its agreed-to halt in nuclear work, Arirang News reported.

The two top diplomats emphasized the promised voluntary cessation of missile and nuclear tests was not an extreme measure on the part of the North. Clinton and Kim in a joint media appearance also urged Pyongyang to bolster its relations with South Korea, a move Seoul and Washington have cited as key to resuming moribund six-nation talks on North Korean denuclearization (Choi You-sun,  Arirang News, March 10).

Back in Seoul on Monday, Kim told journalists that the South Korean government “takes particular note of the fact that North Korea has agreed to take presteps to create an appropriate environment for the resumption of the six-party talks,” the Yonhap News Agency reported.

The six-nation negotiations encompass China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States. They were last held in December 2008.

Seoul intends to “continue to make efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue in cooperation with the members of the six-party talks and the rest of the international community,” Kim said.

While the North Korean nuclear impasse is not on the formal agenda of the upcoming Global Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, the matter can still be examined during informal one-on-one meetings between delegates to the forum, he noted.

The high-profile security conference is scheduled for March 26-27 and is to include involvement by heads of state and top officials from more than 50 nations. The forum aims to build on the work of the first Global Nuclear Security Summit, held in Washington in 2010.

“North Korea’s nuclear issue is not on the agenda of the Seoul summit, but the issue can be discussed bilaterally outside the summit because all member countries of the six-party talks except North Korea will be attending the summit,” the South Korean foreign minister said.
“The nuclear security summit pursues the minimum use of nuclear materials such as highly enriched uranium and plutonium. So, it can deliver a message to North Korea that it should give up such materials,” he said (Yonhap News Agency, March 12).
The U.S. military appears ready to dispatch a high-tech surveillance aircraft to South Korea to monitor for possible strikes from North Korea during the summit, Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday.
The South Korean and U.S. armed forces are weighing using the J-STARS reconnaissance plane in accordance with efforts to increase surveillance of the Stalinist state, Yonhap reported. The aircraft can climb to altitudes up to 7.4 miles and can track movements inside North Korea that could include the relocation of missiles and artillery units.
An anonymous South Korean military official told the news agency that “military readiness will be maintained at the highest level to guard against potential attacks via land, sea and the air as well as cyber attacks” (Agence France-Presse/Hindustan Times, March 11).
Meanwhile, U.S. issue specialists who met with a North Korean delegation for six hours on Saturday in New York received positive signals that the country’s leadership was stable, several months after the unexpected death of longtime dictator Kim Jong Il, Reuters reported.
Ex-U.S. envoy Evans Revere, who took part in the National Committee on American Foreign Policy-sponsored meeting, told journalists there seemed to be a “strong strand of continuity” in the isolated North. “It suggests that the D.P.R.K. is not going off into some unpredictable or odd direction” (Edith Honan, Reuters/Yahoo!News, March 10).
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