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Analyst: North has 5-8 nuclear warheads

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Apr 01,2009
An American analyst said yesterday in Seoul that intelligence officials believe North Korea has produced several nuclear warheads.

Daniel Pinkston, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, said intelligence agencies “believe the North Koreans have assembled nuclear warheads for [mid-range] Rodong missiles,” according to Agence France-Presse. That missile has a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) range - long enough to hit Japan.

“It might be right, it might be wrong. But if others believe it is true, it has implications for the psychological aspects of deterrence,” he added, without identifying his sources.

Pinkson told AFP that the North has apparently placed the operation and maintenance of the five to eight nuclear weapons under the control of an organ separate from the army and directly run by leader Kim Jong-il.

In a separate story on Japan’s Kyodo News, Pinkston said the warheads were built using plutonium extracted from North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear plant.

The North, which conducted a nuclear test in 2006, reportedly has 200 Rodong missiles.

Meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to pressure the United States, North Korea announced yesterday that the two American journalists arrested earlier this month will stand trial on charges of “illegal entry” and “suspected hostile acts.”

The announcement comes on the heels of the North’s belligerent rhetoric issued late Monday: Pyongyang said then that South Korean participation in an international movement against trading of weapons of mass destruction would mean “a declaration of war.”

Through its official Korean Central News Agency, North Korea said yesterday it will put U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling on trial at an unspecified date.

“The illegal entry of U.S. reporters into the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements, according to the results of intermediary investigation conducted by a competent organ of the DPRK,” the KCNA said. “The organ is carrying out its investigation and, at the same time, making preparations for indicting them at a trial on the basis of the already confirmed suspicions.”

The journalists, from San Francisco-based Current TV, were caught near the China-North Korea border on the Tumen River on March 17. They were in China to report on the plight of North Korean refugees. The KCNA added that Lee and Ling will be allowed consular access and treated in accordance with international laws. The U.S. State Department remained tight-lipped about the situation.

“We have seen [the report] and are still in the process of working diplomatically ... to achieve a favorable outcome,” department spokesman Fred Lash told Reuters. Lash declined to comment further.

A White House official also said, according to AFP, that the U.S. government is working on the matter through “diplomatic channels.”

“We have no higher priority than the protection of American citizens abroad,” the anonymous official said.

Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Pyongyang and instead uses the Swedish Embassy in the North Korean capital as its representative.

According to Gordon Duguid, another State Department spokesman, a Swedish diplomat met with Lee and Ling individually over the weekend. No further details were released.

The decision to try the journalists comes as South Korea, the United States and Japan are putting pressure on the North Korean regime not to go ahead with its rocket launch. The North has said that between April 4 and 8 it will send a communications satellite into space, but the three countries have countered that it will be a cover for a ballistic missile test and will be in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution that bans ballistic missile activities by the North.

In its editorial dated Monday, the Wall Street Journal argued the appropriate U.S. response to the rocket launch “would be to shoot it down.”

Late Monday, North Korea’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party, told the KCNA that if the South participates in the Proliferation Security Initiative, it will take a firm measure in response. If the South joins the PSI, the committee said, “It will be considered a declaration of war against us and we will take a resolute countermeasure against it. PSI will not be acceptable.”

The PSI is a creation of the George W. Bush administration and is designed to curb trafficking of weapons of mass destruction. Under the initiative, participating countries try to intercept cargoes of suspected weapon materials and enact laws to facilitate seizure of such materials.

The South is an observer nation in the PSI and has previously refrained from becoming a full-fledged participant for fear of harming inter-Korean relations. However, South Korean government officials, including Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee, said in March that the South will seriously consider joining the PSI following the North’s rocket launch.


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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