North’s nukes reach ‘alarming’ level: Lee’s aide

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North’s nukes reach ‘alarming’ level: Lee’s aide

North Korea’s nuclear threat has reached an “alarming level,” according to a senior aide of President Lee Myung-bak yesterday.

“Their nuclear program is evolving even now at a very fast pace,” said Kim Tae-hyo, the president’s secretary for national strategy, at a forum on the future of Northeast Asia.

“We have judged that North Korea is currently operating all its nuclear programs, including highly enriched uranium processing and the nuclear facility in Yongbyon,” added Kim.

It is rare for presidential secretaries to speak openly on the status of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

“It is our belief that North Korea is constantly working on making their weapons smaller, as all nations with nuclear programs wish to do, in order to produce nuclear weapons with more firepower and less plutonium,” said the presidential secretary.

“When the weapons are made mobile, they will be placed in the field, and when that time comes, they could wreak immense havoc on South Korean soil wherever they are aimed,” Kim said.

A cooling tower at the Yongbyon facility was demolished in 2008 in a demonstration of North Korea’s commitment to nuclear disarmament. But Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said during an auditing session yesterday that North Korea has started restoration of the facilities at the Yongbyon site.

Presidential secretary Kim also expressed concern at the forum that the North’s nuclear program could scare away other countries with a stake in the region from helping stabilize the peninsula.

“The dilemma is that neighboring strong countries may not cooperate with us with faith when the Korean Peninsula may be harboring a nuclear weapon somewhere,” said Kim.

For both Koreas to make their way out of their current impasse, Kim said, an apology from the North for the sinking of the South’s warship Cheonan in March would be a good start.

“An apology would help the government and the South Korean people realize North Korea’s sincerity,” said Kim. “If the Cheonan and nuclear problems are solved, then large-scale support and cooperation may become possible.”

“The tourism business in Mount Kumgang is something that brings a cash flow of anywhere from $40 to 50 million a year, and as long as the May 24 measures are in place, it would be inappropriate to resume the tours,” Kim said, referring to President Lee’s May 24 address that blamed the North for the Cheonan attack. In the address, Lee also announced punitive measures on North Korea, which denies the attack.

By Christine Kim, Jeong Yong-soo []
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