‘Blue House tried to buy nuclear rods from North’

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‘Blue House tried to buy nuclear rods from North’

Following a revelation by a former White House official, a senior Blue House aide admitted that the Lee Myung-bak administration had made an attempt to purchase nuclear material from North Korea to stop its atomic arms programs, but the deal failed due to Pyongyang’s high-priced demands.

In his latest book “The Impossible State,” Victor Cha, a professor of Georgetown University who served as director for Asian affairs in the White House National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, unveiled Seoul’s failed attempt to buy the wasted fuel rods, the main ingredient to build nuclear bombs, from North Korea in 2009.

According to Cha, the Lee administration dispatched a delegation led by Hwang Joon-kook, then the deputy chief negotiator for the six-party talks, to Pyongyang in January 2009. Hwang’s mission was to purchase 8,000 spent fuel rods in order to prevent the North from reprocessing the nuclear material, Cha wrote. The North demanded an exorbitant price, and President Lee rejected it, Cha stated. Hwang is currently deployed to the Korean Embassy in Washington.

A senior Blue House official confirmed on Monday that Cha’s account of the failed attempt did take place.

“Chun Yung-woo, then the chief of the six-party nuclear talks, proposed to the North in 2008 that South Korea was willing to buy the spent fuel rods if they were sold at the international market price,” the source said.

“But the North later demanded an unreasonably high price.”

Chun is currently serving as Lee’s senior secretary for foreign and security affairs.

At the time, Pyongyang was implementing the Feb. 13, 2007 North Korea-U.S. agreement, through which it would disclose all nuclear arms and development programs and disable the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon.

In June 2008, the North demolished the cooling tower of the Yongbyon nuclear complex, the most visible symbol of its nuclear arms programs at the time.

Only two months later, however, the North suspended the dismantling process and resumed its nuclear arms programs. The Lee administration’s failed attempt to purchase the spent nuclear fuel rods from North Korea appeared to come from an existing case.

A senior Blue House official recently said nuclear materials collected from dismantled warheads were largely used for commercial power generation in the United States.

By Ko Jung-ae [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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