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2003-04-26 - 8:55 a.m.

Latest News on N. Korea

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U.S. Had Advance Word of N. Korea Nuclear Claim
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
Fri April 25, 2003 08:46 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea first told State Department officials in March it reprocessed spent nuclear fuel, but the information was kept from officials in other parts of the government, presumably so as not to scuttle talks with Pyongyang, U.S. officials said on Friday.

The incident, which was confirmed by two other sources, appeared to underscore the division and competition in the Bush administration -- particularly between the State and Defense Departments -- over North Korea policy.

North Korea warns of "merciless deadly blows" at US
Agence France-Presse
Seoul, April 24

North Korea on Thursday warned it would deal "merciless deadly blows" to US troops in the event of war, as talks were underway in Beijing to defuse a crisis over its nuclear ambitions.

The warning came from Kim Il-Chol, minister of the People's Armed Forces, during a ceremony to mark the 71st anniversary of the army's founding, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

"If the US imperialists and their followers invade even an inch of our inviolable sky, land and seas despite our serious warning, our people's army will deal merciless deadly blows at the aggressors and win a final victory in the confrontation with the US," he was quoted as saying.

Experts Doubt N. Korean Nuclear Claim
Filed at 3:50 a.m. ET

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korean and Japanese nuclear experts expressed doubt Friday over North Korea's claims about its nuclear capability, saying they could be a ruse to force concessions from the United States.

In Washington, a senior U.S. official said Thursday on condition of anonymity that the chief North Korean negotiator in talks in Beijing acknowledged that Pyongyang had nuclear weapons and could test them depending on U.S. actions.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly was to fly from Beijing to Seoul late Friday to report on the talks, the government said.

``We're still checking the facts right now,'' said Lee Ji-hyun, a South Korean presidential spokeswoman.

Kang Jungmin, a nuclear analyst, questioned the communist North's claim that it has reprocessed all its 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods, a key step in the production of atomic bombs. That would put it much closer to building six to eight additional weapons beyond the one or two it was believed to have.

``It's a sheer lie. There is no sign whatsoever that North Korea has restarted its reprocessing facility,'' Kang said. ``Even if it has restarted its facility, it would take them four or five months to complete the reprocessing.''

America may have to barter with a nuclear North Korea
By Philip Stephens
Published: April 25 2003 5:00 | Last Updated: April 25 2003 5:00

The regime in Pyongyang is every bit as nasty as Mr Hussein's was. Probably more so. It is also a lot more dangerous. The last relic of Stalinism, it rules through the vicious repression and selective and not-so-selective starvation of its people. It possesses ballistic missiles in abundance. Even as US and British forces scour Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, North Korea has reached, if not already crossed, the nuclear threshold. Worse, Pyongyang is a serial proliferator. Its missiles are on offer to anyone with a large enough cheque. Likewise, we must suppose, its nuclear materials. If it switches on its plant at Yongbyon it can reprocess enough plutonium to produce a nuclear bomb a month.

Mr Rumsfeld's answer is regime change. I have heard the case directly from US administration officials. North Korea is already bankrupt. A combination of diplomatic isolation, draconian sanctions and a blockade would tip the regime over the edge. The US should also threaten "surgical" bombing strikes on Yongbyon.

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