By Lee Haye-ah and Sam Kim
SEOUL, Nov. 22 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's revelation of a modern uranium enrichment plant will likely push neighboring countries to readjust their policies toward the communist regime, analysts said Monday, citing the ineffectiveness of international sanctions imposed to pressure Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear arms programs.
Stanford University professor Siegfried Hecker told the New York Times last weekend that he toured an "ultra-modern" uranium enrichment site equipped with hundreds of centrifuges during his visit to the North earlier this month.
The North Koreans claimed to have begun producing low-enriched uranium with 2,000 centrifuges, Hecker said, although he was not allowed to verify the claims. If enriched to weapons grade, uranium can be used as an alternative to plutonium for building atomic bombs.
The revelation prompted the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, to set off on a hastily arranged three-nation tour. He arrived here Sunday to discuss the next steps in dealing with "another in a series of provocative moves" by Pyongyang.
His trip will also take him to Tokyo and Beijing, where he is expected to coordinate joint measures within the framework of the six-party talks, also involving Russia, that seek to denuclearize North Korea in return for economic and political benefits.
"The results of Bosworth's three-nation tour will mark a turning point in the North Korean nuclear issue as the (negotiating partners) will have to decide between dialogue and applying even more pressure on the North," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies. "I expect them to eventually turn to dialogue."
The six-party talks have been stalled since late 2008. Early last year, North Korea walked out in protest over U.N. sanctions for its nuclear tests. The country has, however, signaled its willingness to rejoin the talks in recent months, apparently in a bid to draw concessions that could prop up its failing economy.
Washington and Seoul have stood firm in their opposition to the resumption of the talks, urging the North to first show through action its commitment to denuclearize and account for the March sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors.
"The revelation of the uranium facility shows that sanctions alone cannot dismantle the North's nuclear programs," said Kim Keun-sik, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University. "Negotiations are the only way forward, and the six-party talks must be revived. The issue of the Cheonan must be separated from this."
Yang said that the North's demands must also be reviewed. Pyongyang calls for the normalization of bilateral ties with the U.S. and has often cited it as a precondition for giving up its nuclear arsenal.
"Either bilateral or multilateral dialogue is the only way for all involved parties to win, even if it takes time," Yang said. "If denuclearization is important, then we should also think about what the North wants. Rather than arguing about who makes the first move, the six-party nations should lay all of their cards on the table and have frank discussions."
Politicians and scholars alike have stressed the importance of China's role in changing the behavior of North Korea, a country fraught with failures on its past commitments to denuclearize. China, North Korea's only remaining ally, has, however, been reluctant to put pressure on the North, fearing it may destabilize the region.
"I think China will change its position on the North from being optimistic to being more cautious," said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University in Seoul.
"I don't think China was aware of the seriousness of the uranium enrichment facility, and will now have to make a judgment on the situation," he added.
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