NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 79 (November 5, 2009) |
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)
North Korea Steps Up Pressure for Direct Talks with Washington
SEOUL (Yonhap) - North Korea is increasing pressure on the United States for direct talks following an uncertain meeting in New York late last month between nuclear negotiators of the two countries.
The North announced on Nov. 3 that it had successfully reprocessed fuel rods to produce enough arms-grade plutonium for use in another atomic weapon and made "noticeable successes" in weaponizing plutonium extracted from them. The announcement came a day after North Korea warned it would "go its own way" if the U.S. remains unresponsive.
Pyongyang shut down its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, some 90 km north of Pyongyang, under a six-nation disarmament accord, in 2007. But the state claimed to have resumed reprocessing the spent fuel rods from the complex in April, in protest against a punitive U.N. resolution for its long-range rocket launch. Analysts see the announcement as an attempt to put pressure on the U.S. for bilateral talks, which could lead to the resumption of six-party disarmament negotiations.
North Korea "successfully completed the reprocessing of 8,000 spent fuel rods by the end of August as part of the measure taken to restore the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon to their original state," Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
It also said: "Noticeable successes have been made in turning the extracted plutonium weapon-grade for the purpose of bolstering up the nuclear deterrent in the DPRK (North Korea)." The report did not elaborate what the "successes" were.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, says North Korea was reminding the U.S. of its nuclear capability as it demands dialogue.
"To announce now what was done in August means that it has the purpose of pressuring the U.S. into engaging in dialogue," Yang said. "The more the U.S. delays, the stronger neo-cons will turn against negotiations within the Obama government."
On Nov. 2, the North said the U.S. holds the key to reviving the six-nation talks designed to provide diplomatic and economic benefits for complete and verifiable denuclearization. North Korea would "go its own way" if the U.S. is still not ready for direct talks, an unnamed spokesman for the North's foreign ministry said.
The message represents a clear attempt to ratchet up pressure on Washington as North Korea pursues its longtime goal of negotiating with the U.S. The six-nation talks have been stalled since late last year when Washington and Pyongyang descended into a dispute over methods to verify past nuclear activities in the North.
After months of provocations, including an additional nuclear test, the socialist regime has sought to reach out to the outside world and invited Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, to visit Pyongyang. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il recently agreed to return to the six-party talks pending the outcome of the bilateral talks with the U.S. Washington has been cautious, however, pressing the North to return to the six-party talks.
North Korea's strongly worded remarks appeared as a follow-up to an uncertain meeting in New York on Oct. 24 between Ri Gun, the North's deputy nuclear envoy, and Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy on the six-party talks. Some media have speculated that the two sides were fine-tuning conditions for Bosworth's possible visit to North Korea.
But Pyongyang denied the speculation, saying, "This contact was not a preliminary one for the DPRK-U.S. talks and, accordingly, no discussion has been made there on any substantial issue concerning the bilateral dialogue," a spokesman for the North's foreign ministry said, hinting that the North might have failed to gain what it wanted in the working-level meeting. Both North Korea and the U.S. have not released details of the outcome of the meeting.
The North's recent moves, on the contrary, disclose the leadership's precipitancy for better relations with the U.S. ahead of the upcoming power transfer from current leader Kim Jong-il to his youngest son Jong-un. Seoul officials say Kim, who suffered a stroke in August last year, groomed the 26-year-old son as successor.
Experts believe 8,000 spent fuel rods could allow North Korea to create one to two nuclear bombs but that the North's threat, a repetition of a statement issued in early September, would have limited influence as a bargaining chip.
The North said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council that it has restarted its main reactor and was reaponizing processed plutonium. The letter also claimed Pyongyang is close to being able to enrich uranium, a second path to making nuclear weapons aside from plutonium.
Earlier in June, the North threatened to begin enriching uranium to make further nuclear bombs and weaponize all the newly extracted plutonium.
North Korea is likely to keep increasing pressure on the U.S. for direct talks by announcing "successes" in weaponizing reprocessed plutonium or "successful progress" in uranium enrichment, if the Pyongyang-hoped talks are further delayed.
Delaying its decision on the proposed talks, the U.S. appears to be pressing Pyongyang to return to the six-party denuclearization talks.
"I'll say as a matter of principle that reprocessing plutonium is contrary to North Korea's own commitments that it committed to in the 2005 Joint Statement, and also would be a violation of various U.N. Security Council resolutions," U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in response to the North's Nov. 3 statement. "I think everybody should be careful and ratchet down the rhetoric and not take any actions that would contribute to tension in the region."
South Korea's foreign ministry, meanwhile, expressed deep regret over the North's announcement, saying it is a violation of its duty to denuclearize as stated in U.N. Resolutions 1718 and 1874.
"We deeply regret North Korea's repeated activities to defy the international community's concerted demand," ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said in a press release. Moon stressed that South Korea will closely cooperate with other related countries so North Korea may return to the six-party talks at an early date and fulfill its duties for denuclearization.