NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 25 (October 16, 2008) |
*** FOREIGN TIPS
N. Korea Unlikely to Possess Nuclear Weapons: Military Chief
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea may be working to develop a lightweight nuclear warhead that can be loaded onto a missile, but it is not clear whether the socialist nation actually possesses warheads or has actually begun their development, the chairman of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said on Oct. 8.
Gen. Kim Tae-young noted the North is believed to have about 40 kilograms of plutonium, enough to make six or seven nuclear weapons, but said it was not certain whether Pyongyang has already used up its plutonium stockpile to produce weapons.
Kim's remarks came in response to a question during a parliamentary audit of the JCS.
The JCS chairman answered that the North may well have the ability to launch a program to develop nuclear warheads, but reiterated nothing is known for certain.
"Because we have seen North Korea engaged in experiments to manufacture nuclear devices and conduct high explosive tests, we believe they have the ability to initiate such a program," Kim said, apparently referring to North Korea's first detonation of a nuclear device in October 2006.
Kim could not say definitively whether North Korea currently possesses nuclear weapons, but his remarks were consistent with many nuclear experts who say that if the North has already produced nuclear weapons without fully proven nuclear technology, its plutonium would have been wasted.
Those experts believe the 2006 nuclear test by North Korea was only a partial success at best, if not a complete failure.
"As I said earlier, it is certain that North Korea possess plutonium. It is certain the North has enough plutonium to make six to seven nuclear weapons, but it is not clear whether it has produced nuclear weapons," Kim later said when again asked if North Korea currently possesses nuclear arms.
"Because (the 2006 test) was not a complete test and only yielded partial success, it is not clear whether the North has weaponized its plutonium," he added.
U.S. Commander Sees No Unusual Movement in N. Korean Military
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The commander of the U.S. Forces in Korea said on Oct. 8 that the North Korean military has not made any suspicious maneuvers amid rumors that its leader, Kim Jong-il, is recovering from a stroke.
"We have not seen anything out of the normal," Gen. Walter Sharp said in a press briefing at the Pentagon, when asked if the North Korean military has been making unusual movements.
Reports said Kim has been recovering from a stroke since Aug. 14, when the reclusive leader disappeared from public view.
North Korean media in recent days reported that Kim had watched a soccer game, but provided no details, photos or video footage.
Sharp said he did not have any specific information on Kim's health, only saying that the combined forces of South Korea and the U.S. are ready for any contingency.
"What we're focused on is what is going on up in North Korea and are we, the ROK-U.S. alliance, prepared for any contingency, whether it be an all-out war plan that we practice any day or instability in the North," he said. "And we are prepared for that."
The commander said he hopes the North Korean leader will be able to abide by his denuclearization commitment.
"Secretary Hill is working very hard on that as he works through those negotiations," Sharp said. "I will say that we want to make sure that what he agreed to in the six-party talks he is actually accomplishing."
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill returned from a three-day trip to Pyongyang over the past weekend amid reports he has yet to make a breakthrough on a verification regime on North Korea's nuclear facilities.
Hill is said to have presented a face-saving measure for the North Koreans, who would not agree to the U.S. demand for unfettered access to its nuclear facilities.
U.S. Expresses Concerns over Reports on N. Korea's Missile Firing
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on Oct. 8 said North Korea's firing of even short-range missiles will not help stabilize the regional political situation.
"I think just as a general comment, with respect to the firing of these kinds of missiles, these short-range missiles, we would advise against it," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a daily news briefing. "It's not helpful in any way managing tensions within the region, which are always at a constant level."
South Korean defense officials have said North Korea fired two short-range missiles in the Yellow Sea adjoining China on Monday as part of routine military training.
McCormack would not confirm the reports, but if true, they would mark the first launches since March, when a North Korean naval vessel fired three Styx missiles in the Yellow Sea.
"We can't confirm it," he said.
The spokesman added that any firing of short-range missiles by North Korea does not constitute a violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on the North's long-range missiles.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution in 2006 demanding that the North "suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program," and abandon its missile program in a "complete, verifiable and irreversible manner."
The resolution was issued soon after North Korea test fired a long-range missile in a break from its voluntary moratorium on missile testing imposed in 1998 to defuse international criticism after parts of a ballistic missile fell into the sea off Alaska.
Reports said that in September, at its new launch site under construction on its west coast, North Korea tested the engine for an intercontinental missile that could possibly reach the U.S. Pacific coast.
The spokesman would not speculate on the intent of North Korea's missile-firing, if any, at a sensitive time when multilateral talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions had hit another snag over how to verify the nuclear list presented by North Korea under a six-party deal.
"Again, that gets into the psychology and the thinking of the North Korean government," he said. "I can't offer any insight to that."
U.S. chief nuclear envoy Christopher Hill last week made a three-day visit to Pyongyang, but apparently failed to agree to a verification regime as the North Koreans would not accept U.S. demands for unfettered access to the North's nuclear facilities.
Washington has yet to lift Pyongyang from a terrorism blacklist, citing a lack of agreement on the verification protocol, prompting the North to restart its nuclear facilities disabled under a six-party deal.
N. Korea Uses Aging Russian Aircraft to Fire Missiles: Source
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea used an aging Russian-made aircraft to fire two short-range missiles earlier this week, a source privy to North Korean affairs said on Oct. 9, surprising officials here who believed that equipping the plane to launch missiles was technically impossible.
The source said the North appeared to have used an Antonov-2 (AN-2) aircraft, but others argued against the account.
"I wonder if that is technically possible," Won Tae-jae, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, told reporters.
North Korea was earlier reported to have fired two short-range missiles on Oct. 7 in the West Sea, but officials here had been unable to confirm whether the missiles were fired from the ground or a ship.
The AN-2 is a Russian-made light single-engine biplane that has a maximum cargo capacity of about 1.5 tons.
"It is just technically not possible for the small AN-2 to lift off while carrying 2-ton missiles and to fire them in air," an Air Force official said, asking not to be identified. "It is simply impossible to equip an AN-2 with the SS-N-2 Styx missiles as its wings are only a few feet from the ground."
The official believed the North could have instead used Ilyushin-28 (IL-28) jet bombers, which are also Russian-made, to fire what appeared to be the heavy, anti-ship KN-01 missile. The weapon weighs about 2.3 tons.
The IL-28, he said, is "completely capable of carrying and firing the missiles."
Other independent experts added that the North's firing of two short-range missiles this week appeared to be a part of a regular exercise to check the performance of its munitions stockpile.
Meanwhile, sources here said the communist nation may be preparing to fire up to 10 short-range missiles in the West Sea, with some speculating that the launches may take place on Friday to mark the 63rd anniversary of the founding of the North's ruling Workers' Party.
If such a launch were to occur, it would be the first time for the communist nation to fire more than 10 missiles in such a short period of time.
The possibility of more launches is due to the North having declaring a no-entry area in the West Sea effective until next Wednesday, and evidence that North Korea's West Sea fleet has stockpiled 10 KN-01 and Styx missiles at one of its bases.
Related to the speculation that more missiles may be fired, a South Korean intelligence official, asking anonymity, said that Seoul has concentrated its signal and visual data-gathering assets to monitor such an event.