Kim, Roh ignored uranium program: Blue House

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Kim, Roh ignored uranium program: Blue House

The liberal administrations of Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun were aware of North Korea’s attempts to enrich uranium, which can be used for nuclear weapons, but turned a blind eye, Lee Myung-bak administration officials said yesterday.

“Since 1998, working-level South Korean officials have been aware that North Korea got its hands on uranium enrichment equipment, but denied this knowledge in 2002 because of the political judgment of higher authorities,” a senior government source said yesterday.

The George W. Bush administration accused Pyongyang in 2002 of operating a clandestine enriched uranium program in violation of its international commitments. But the accusation was challenged in the past by liberal South Korean officials.

“When the United States accused the North of pursuing a highly enriched uranium (HEU) program in 2002, officials of the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations argued that it was a fabrication by the neoconservatives in Washington,” Chung Jin-suk, President Lee’s senior political affairs secretary, said yesterday.

“Those who sided with North Korea must come clean and apologize,” he said.

Earlier this month, North Korea showed a visiting U.S. scientist a new facility to enrich uranium, which it says it wants for electricity generation. The North claimed that the facility held 2,000 centrifuges which were installed and running.

The Bush administration, starting in 2002, became alarmed at evidence that North Korea was pursuing a parallel nuclear program to its plutonium-based one, and concluded it was sourcing materials for centrifuges. Bush announced at a press conference in Nov. 2002: “We discovered .?.?. they’re enriching uranium, with a desire of developing a weapon.”

The fragmentary evidence, combined with mixed signals from North Korea, helped hardliners sway U.S. policy against negotiating with Pyongyang for years.

One key source, according to the book “Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis” by journalist Mike Chinoy, was an agent inside North Korea who allegedly reported to Seoul.

According to the book, the agent subsequently fled the North and is believed to be living in South Korea.

By 2007, however, U.S. officials were saying North Korea had purchased components that were “consistent” with attempts to enrich uranium, but didn’t know if it would be able to make much uranium and the issue was sidelined in six-party denuclearization talks.

“North Korea’s operation of HEU has long been known, but the past administrations did not bring up the issue,” said a senior Blue House official. “We thought it was a problem, so as soon as the Lee administration came into office, we raised the issue to China and Russia.

“South Korea obtained information [on HEU] in 1998. And what has been revealed now also scientifically proves that the North had long pursued the technology. The past administrations still denied it.”

The Roh administration’s Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and Unification Ministers Lee Jong-seok and Chung Se-hyun were named by the Blue House official for having denied Washington’s accusation.

“They were always ambiguous about the North’s HEU when addressing the public,” the official said. “Some of them are still serving important posts, so they must make clear their position now.”

The official also said the liberal administrations had probably denied the information because they were worried that the “Sunshine Policy” could be criticized for funding the nuclear programs.


By Ser Myo-ja, Namkoong Wook [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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