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2009/06/18 10:52 KST

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

N.K. Reacts Angrily to U.N. Sanctions, Says It Will Start Enriching Uranium

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- As widely expected, North Korea issued an angry response to last week's U.N. Security Council resolution ratcheting up sanctions on the communist state. In a statement released June 13, Pyongyang said it will begin enriching uranium and weaponize all of its existing plutonium in protest of the U.N. action, which punished the North for conducting its second nuclear test ever last month.

   "The process of uranium enrichment will be commenced," a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said in the statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). North Korea "would weaponize all plutonium and we've processed more than one-third of our spent nuclear fuel rods," the spokesman said.

   North Korea, which drew condemnations from around the world after the atomic test on May 25, said it has had "enough success" in developing uranium enrichment technology and was experimenting.

   The U.N. resolution, approved June 12, banned all weapons exports from North Korea and most arms imports into the country. It authorized U.N. member states to inspect North Korean sea, air and land cargo, and calls on them to seize and destroy shipped goods that violate the sanctions.

   Pyongyang's foreign ministry spokesman warned the reclusive state would take firm military action if the U.S. and its allies tried to isolate it, according to the KCNA.

   The uranium enrichment program will be aimed at setting up a light-water reactor, the spokesman said. Experts have said North Korea lacks the technology and resources to build such a costly reactor but may use the program as cover to enrich uranium for weapons.

   Regarding its plutonium stockpile, the North's foreign ministry spokesman claimed "more than one third of the spent fuel rods have been reprocessed to date." Spent fuel rods are reprocessed to produce the plutonium needed to build nuclear bombs, after undergoing irradiation in a reactor.

   U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 13 called North Korea's continuing provocative actions "deeply regrettable." "They have now been denounced by everyone and have become further isolated," she said during a news conference. Of the U.N. resolution, Clinton said, "this was a tremendous statement on behalf of the world community that North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver those weapons through missiles is not going to be accepted by the neighbors as well as the greater international community."

   The secretary added Washington would work with other nations to enforce the U.N. resolution "in a vigorous way to send a clear message that we intend to do all we can to prevent continued proliferation by the North Koreans."

   South Korea praised the adoption of the U.N. Council resolution. "The government views the Security Council's action this time as reflecting its unified and resolute will to stave off North Korea's nuclear development and proliferation," Seoul foreign ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said in a statement.

   South Korea co-sponsored the resolution and participated in more than two weeks of hard-nosed bargaining on its content. The process also involved Japan and the council's five permanent members -- the U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia.

   South Korea, in a highly unusual move, actively participated in the process of hammering out a compromise on the "blue text," the final draft of the resolution circulated to the Security Council. Although not a member of the council, Seoul spoke out as a country directly affected by the North's nuclear activities.

   "The government urges North Korea to accept the clear and decisive message from the international community, shown in the resolution, to dismantle the entirety of its nuclear program and to stop all activity related to ballistic missiles," Moon said. He added South Korea will cooperate closely with other related nations under the firm principle that North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons can never be tolerated.

   North Korea has long been accused of running a secret uranium enrichment program, a second track to developing nuclear bombs on top of reprocessing plutonium. South Korea believes the North has about 40 kilograms of plutonium, enough to produce at least six bombs.

   Following an earlier U.N. condemnation of its April 5 rocket launch, which Pyongyang claims put a satellite into orbit, North Korea expelled international monitors from its nuclear reactor facility north of Pyongyang and vowed to restore operations there.

   "It has become an absolutely impossible option for the DPRK (North Korea) to even think about giving up its nuclear weapons," the North said, blaming the U.S. for its conclusion. "This is yet another vile product of the U.S.-led offensive of international pressure," it said, arguing it "has never chosen but was compelled to go nuclear."

   In response to the latest U.N. resolution, dubbed Resolution 1874, North Korea said it will consider any outside attempt to impose a blockade on it as an act of war. "An attempted blockade of any kind by the U.S. and its followers will be regarded as an act of war and met with a decisive military response," it said.

   North Korea has heightened tension in the region over the past few months by test-firing missiles, restarting a plant to produce weapons-grade plutonium and conducting the May 25 nuclear test, which put it closer to developing a working nuclear bomb.

   The 15-nation council unanimously passed without amendment the U.S.-written draft resolution banning North Korea from conducting further nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The adoption came amid reports that North Korea is preparing to test yet another nuclear device.

   A breakthrough was made in the time-consuming negotiations among the so-called P-5 plus two -- the five veto-wielding powers of the council, plus South Korea and Japan -- on June 9 when China accepted a decision by the U.S. to change the word "decide" to "call on" in the provisions of the draft.

   Critics say China may be lukewarm to implementing financial sanctions, cargo inspections and the arms embargo, interpreting "call on" as not legally binding.

   The resolution was implemented under Chapter VII, Article 41 of the U.N. Charter, which excludes the use of force, similar to Resolution 1718 and others U.N. actions taken after North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests in the past.

   The latest 34-point resolution calls for an overall arms embargo on North Korea except for light weapons or small arms, and imposes financial sanctions to prevent the flow of funds that could benefit North Korea's missile, nuclear or any other proliferation activities.

   U.N. member states are also advised to reduce or refrain from providing any further financial aid to North Korea unless the aid is related to humanitarian activity. Washington is also weighing whether to impose its own financial sanctions against North Korea.

   The U.S. slapped financial sanctions on a Macau bank in 2005, freezing US$25 million worth of North Korean assets and effectively cutting off Pyongyang's access to the international financial system. Banco Delta Asia had been accused of helping North Korea launder money by circulating sophisticated counterfeit $100 bills, known as "supernotes."

   It is not clear whether the new sanctions will deter the North from further provocations. Some say Pyongyang will eventually return to bilateral or multilateral negotiations while others voice pessimism about Pyongyang's willingness to abandon its nuclear arsenal.

   North Korea held a mass rally on June 15 at Pyongyang's Kimilsung Square to denounce the U.N. council's resolution as "cooked up at the instigation of the U.S. imperialists."

   Attending the rally were senior party, military and state officials, along with tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, according to a KCNA report. Kim Ki-nam, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, said in a speech that the U.N. resolution is an "intolerable mockery of the dignity of the Korean people and an arrogant criminal act that wantonly violates (North Korea's) sovereignty."

   No matter how desperately the U.S. imperialists and other hostile forces may work to isolate and blockade North Korea, "a full-fledged nuclear weapons state," it will remain unfazed, he said.

   Pak Jae-gyong, vice minister of the People's Armed Forces who spoke on behalf of the Korean People's Army (KPA), made similar remarks. Pak also warned that the KPA will "mercilessly" block any attempt to check, inspect, examine or blockade any North Korean vessel. He highlighted that the U.S. and North Korea technically remain at war, saying the 1953 armistice agreement had "lost its legal binding force" and that the army would respond "promptly" to the slightest provocation.