Report details aid to N. Korean arms effort

White House is briefed on how Pakistan's Khan supplied gear, technology

March 14, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - A new classified intelligence report presented to the White House last week detailed for the first time the extent to which Pakistan's Khan Research Laboratories provided North Korea with the equipment and technology it needed to produce uranium-based nuclear weapons, according to American and Asian officials who have been briefed on its conclusions.

The assessment, by the CIA, confirms the Bush administration's fears about the accelerated nature of North Korea's secret uranium weapons program, which intelligence officials believe could produce a weapon as early as next year. The assessment is based in part on Pakistan's accounts of its interrogations of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the developer of Pakistan's bomb, who was pardoned by Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in January.

The report concluded that North Korea probably received a package very similar to the kind the Khan network sold to Libya - including nuclear fuel, centrifuges and one or more warhead designs - for more than $60 million.

A senior American official described it as "the complete package," from raw uranium hexafluoride to the centrifuges to enrich it into nuclear fuel, which could be more easily hidden from inspectors than were North Korea's older sites to produce plutonium bombs.

In the report, Khan's transactions with North Korea are traced to the early 1990s, when Benazir Bhutto was the Pakistani prime minister, and the clandestine relationship between the two countries is portrayed as rapidly accelerating between 1998 and 2002. At the time, North Korea was desperate to come up with an alternative way to build a nuclear bomb because its main plutonium facilities were "frozen" under an agreement struck with the Clinton administration in 1994. North Korea abandoned that agreement in late 2002.

But the new assessment leaves two critical issues unresolved as the Bush administration attempts to use a mix of incentives and threats to disarm North Korea, so far with little success.

American intelligence agencies still cannot locate the site or sites of any North Korean uranium-enrichment facilities, meaning that if the six-party negotiations over the North's nuclear program fail, it would be virtually impossible to try to attack the facilities, which can be hidden in tunnels or inside a mountain.

American intelligence has also been unable to pinpoint exactly when the new facilities would become big enough to produce enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon. It takes several thousand centrifuges to efficiently produce enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon, but North Korea might be assembling only a few hundred a year.

The CIA's conclusions about North Korea's uranium were presented to senior White House officials, including the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, in a series of briefings on March 4 and 5. That followed an inconclusive second round of negotiations with North Korea, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia that produced agreements to hold more meetings but no commitment by North Korea to disarm its program.

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