U.S. indirectly presses N. Korea

Trading partners urged not to aid nuclear effort

October 19, 2002|By BOSTON GLOBE

UNITED NATIONS - The Bush administration called on North Korea's trading partners yesterday to stop helping it build nuclear weapons, as top U.S. diplomats traveled to the Far East for talks after the Communist state's admission that it has a secret uranium-enrichment program.

Yesterday, Pakistan and Russia flatly denied accusations by U.S. officials that they have supplied material to North Korea that aided it in developing a clandestine nuclear weapons program. U.S. officials also said yesterday that they believe China might have assisted North Korea.

Reports from North Korean defectors have long pointed to a secret uranium-enrichment program, possibly carried out at as many as four sites. They include a uranium-milling plant at Mount Chonmasan, a facility identified by a former North Korean brigadier general who defected, according to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif.

Administration officials say they believe that the trade in nuclear-related material between North Korea and Pakistan occurred in 1997, two years before Gen. Pervez Musharraf took power. Nuclear specialists say the plan appears to have been to build a series of gas centrifuges that enrich uranium.

"But the plants wouldn't be done for a few years," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former U.N. weapons inspector. They would then produce one or two bombs per year, he said.

The White House disclosed Wednesday that North Korea acknowledged its nuclear weapons program in a meeting in Pyongyang on Oct. 4. North Korea also said it would no longer abide by a 1994 accord in which it agreed to dismantle its nuclear arms program in exchange for two nuclear power generators.

North Korea was then known to have only a plutonium-fueled nuclear arms program; the recent admissions are about enriched uranium, typically considered more reliable and easier to hide.

Bush administration officials have preferred a diplomatic approach to dealing with the repressive, famine-troubled and often unpredictable Stalinist state, and have begun to talk with other key allies.

John Bolton and James Kelly, top State Department officials, flew to Beijing yesterday for talks with Chinese officials. China, a major trading partner with North Korea, is in a strong position to influence its actions. Bolton will continue to Moscow, London, Paris and Brussels.

Meanwhile, lawmakers, nuclear specialists and North Korea watchers remained deeply divided yesterday on what steps the Bush administration should take to contain the threat posed by the Asian nation's nuclear ambitions. Some legislators - including Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona - have called on the Bush administration to take firm and swift action.

In a letter sent to Bush on Thursday, Markey called for new sanctions against the dictatorship, including the halt of all non-humanitarian aid. Such measures should remain in place, Markey said, "until North Korea accepts the on-demand, anywhere, anytime inspections to verify their programs have been dismantled."

Not all North Korea observers agree. Many point out that dictator Kim Jong Il has taken steps recently that indicate an openness to the West and that this latest admission might be another attempt to do so.

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