Home International North Korea says it is in final phase of uranium enrichment

North Korea says it is in final phase of uranium enrichment


Seoul : North Korea said Friday that it was entering the final testing phase of uranium enrichment, which could give it a second way to produce nuclear weapons.

It also said that it was reprocessing plutonium for atomic weapons from spent fuel rods, a process believed to have produced the fuel for its two nuclear tests.

“Experimental uranium enrichment has successfully been conducted and entered into the completion phase,” North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said, quoting from a letter sent to the UN. “Reprocessing of spent fuel rods is in its final phase and extracted plutonium is being weaponized.”

The letter was released after North Korea made a series of conciliatory gestures in April toward South Korea in a sign of a potential de-escalation with the Stalinist country after tensions over its nuclear and missile programmes escalated earlier in the year and garnered Pyongyang international condemnation.

Highly enriched uranium can be used to produce nuclear weapons, but the two nuclear tests that North Korea has conducted – one in 2006 and another in May – are believed to have been done with plutonium reprocessed from fuel rods from its one functioning, plutonium-producing nuclear reactor.

The UN Security Council imposed further sanctions on North Korea in June after the nuclear test and a series of missile launches. North Korea reacted to those sanctions with threats that it would proceed with uranium enrichment and additional production of


The US has suspected for years that impoverished North Korea was pursuing uranium enrichment for the purpose of building nuclear weapons. Independent inspections of its nuclear sites are, however, impossible after Pyongyang threw out international

inspectors in April.

On Friday, North Korea said it was pursuing a two-pronged strategy that prepared it for “both dialogue and sanctions”.

If members of the UN Security Council “wish to put sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence”, its letter added.

While the correspondence with the UN indicated North Korea might be ready for further talks on its nuclear programme, North Korea observers have warned that Pyongyang’s recent strategy could be its typical one, in which it makes concessions, only to retreat from those promises and return to work on its nuclear and missile programmes.

It pledged in 2005 to dismantle its nuclear programmes in six-nation talks, but those negotiations have been stalled since last year and Pyongyang dropped out of them in April.

The Korean Central News Agency said Pyongyang’s letter was written in response to questions from the UN sanctions committee about a North Korean arms shipment seized last month while allegedly on its way to Iran. The weapons, including bazookas and munitions for grenade launchers, were confiscated by the United Arab Emirates from an Australian ship, and the UN Security Council is investigating.

South Korea criticised Friday’s statement from North Korea. It said its neighbour’s behaviour was intolerable.

“The government will deal sternly and consistently with North Korea’s threats and provocations,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae Young.

The criticism came after North and South Korea agreed last month to resume reunions of families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War and normalize commuter traffic between the South and their jointly run industrial park in the North Korea border city of Kaesong.