Sunday, February 13, 2005

North Korea Not Yet a Nuclear Weapons State - Seoul

Yahoo! News - North Korea Not Yet a Nuclear Weapons State - Statement by Seoul

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea (news - web sites)'s declaration that it possesses nuclear weapons does not make it a nuclear weapons state, South Korea (news - web sites)'s unification minister said on Monday.

Last week, North Korea explicitly said for the first time that it possessed nuclear weapons. The reclusive, communist state also said it was pulling out of six-party talks on its nuclear programs because of what it called U.S. hostility.

"We see it as a claim to own nuclear weapons, not an official statement of being a nuclear weapons state," Unification Minister Chung Dong-young told parliament. Chung also heads South Korea's National Security Council, which advises President Roh Moo-hyun.

There was no evidence of nuclear testing by the North and it was premature to conclude North Korea possessed nuclear weapons, Chung said.

"There is no doubt that North Korea has 10 to 14 kg (22 lb to 31 lb) of plutonium, but there is no evidence that the North has turned it into plutonium bombs," Chung said.

The State Department had no immediate comment.
"North Korea is trying to show not everything is going to work out the way the U.S. plans," said Jang, president of the World and Northeast Asia Peace Forum based in Seoul.

Pressure is mounting on the South Korean government to reconsider its policy of reconciliation with the North.

But Chung said South Korea was committed to resolving the nuclear crisis through dialogue.

South Korea's conservative opposition said the government's policy on the North made it "a nuclear hostage" and urged Seoul to reconsider commercial projects and aid programs.

North Korea was seeking direct negotiations with the United States within the six-party framework, and was prepared to return to the talks at the first indication from Washington that it was willing to talk directly, said Jang, the North Korea expert.

Washington has rejected the demand for direct talks over the North's nuclear weapons program and insisted on six-party negotiations, at which bilateral exchanges have taken place on the sidelines.

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