Alarms are ringingAlarm bells are ringing over North Korea’s nuclear threats. Quoting the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s analysis, foreign media organizations reported that the North now has 65 nuclear warheads and its uranium enrichment devices have also skyrocketed to a whopping 12,000.
Despite the bombshell revelation, negotiations for denuclearization seem to have hit a snag. Just three weeks after the historic summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, denuclearization talks are losing steam. U.S. intelligence agencies are increasingly concerned about the possibility of the North once again dragging its feet by taking advantage of Trump’s alleged trust in Kim’s sincerity.
If North Korea has really produced as many as 65 warheads, that’s a serious matter. Until recently, U.S. intelligence agencies put the number at a maximum of 20, considering the approximately 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of plutonium the North possesses. But 65 means that North Korea additionally made nuclear warheads from highly enriched uranium (HEU). Intelligence circles in South Korea and the United States estimate the North’s HEU at more than 700 kilograms, capable of producing 100 warheads within three years.
A nightmarish scenario in which North Korea possesses a large number of warheads has suddenly turned into a possible reality. There is growing speculation that the recalcitrant state is trying to delay the denuclearization process in order to hide as many warheads as possible.
That’s not all. The Washington Post talked to Dr. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a nongovernmental think tank, and reported that North Korea is running a maximum of 12,000 centrifuges for HEU-based warheads in a place other than Yongbyon, where 2,000 to 4,000 centrifuges are already operating. On top of that, the North has expanded production facilities for a new type of solid fuel-based ballistic missiles in Hamhung, according to satellite image analysis by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. These developments suggest that North Korea is going in the opposite direction despite its vow to shut down missile engine test sites after Kim’s summit with Trump.
In such a precarious situation, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said he has come up with a program to dismantle the North’s nuclear and biochemical weapons and missiles within one year. In an interview with CBS on Sunday, he said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will discuss it with his North Korean counterpart. The return of the hawk hints at the possibility of the Trump administration changing tact at any point if things go badly.
With alarm bells ringing loudly, our government must wake up. It must first warn China about its efforts to ease sanctions even before denuclearization and urge Pyongyang to come to the negotiating table quickly.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 3, Page 30
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