Monday, May 09, 2005

North Korea Has 6 Nukes

A UN atomic agency estimate that North Korea could have six nuclear weapons ratcheted up official Washington's worries that the Stalinist state may test a bomb as early as next month.
A reporter asked International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei if North Korea had as many as six nuclear weapons. "I think that would be close to our estimation," he said. "We knew they had the plutonium that could be converted into five or six North Korea weapons. "We know that they had the industrial infrastructure to weaponize this plutonium. We have read also that they have the delivery system." ElBaradei's comments came two days after the New York Times reported that US officials familiar with satellite and intelligence data believed the Stalinist state was building a reviewing stand and filling in a tunnel, signs of a potential underground nuclear test. US officials have been urging North Korea to rejoin China, Japan, Russia and South Korea to join the United States in so-called six-party talks, which have been stalled since June, when the North quit the talks, citing "hostile" US policy. North Korea declared on February 10 that it had developed nuclear weapons to defend itself from the United States. However, the pace of events picked up this week, with press and IAEA reports on North Korea's nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities. As recently as April 29, the Pentagon referred to North Korea's ability to arm a long-range missile with a nuclear warhead as "theoretical." Since then, ElBaradei urged the international community to persuade North Korea to back off what could be an attempt to use the weapons as blackmail. "I'm not sure they will gain anything by testing other than provoking every member of the international community and bring -- and play a brinkmanship policy, which nobody will benefit," ElBaradei told reporters. US Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged North Korea to return to the six-party talks. The threat of a nuclear test "is the only card they have to play," the Kansas senator told reporters. "I think basically that (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-Il believes this is his card to play to stay on the world stage to make demands." However, Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein said it was not too late for US officials to meet North Korean demands for bilateral meetings instead of the six-way talks and said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should be involved. "I think Kim Jong-Il wants this dialogue.
I see no reason, I see no harm in sitting down (at) the table with him and seeing if we can't change his direction," she told reporters. President Bill Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, said the United States had missed opportunities to defuse the showdown earlier, "I'm very concerned about the box that we are now in with North Korea." The stakes are high and the threat is real, former acting CIA director John McLaughlin said. "This is one of the few countries in the world that is hostile to the United States and developing and has in its possession missiles that have an intercontinental capability," he said. A North Korean test would cause "a lot of insecurity fallout," ElBaradei said. "The impact on the whole East Asian and Japan, South Korea is tremendous."