North: Reprocessing rods for nuclear bombs complete

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North: Reprocessing rods for nuclear bombs complete

North Korea said yesterday it has successfully reprocessed spent fuel rods to generate more plutonium for atomic weapons, apparently adding pressure on the United States to hold direct talks.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency said it “successfully completed the reprocessing of 8,000 spent fuel rods” by the end of August and made “remarkable achievements in weaponizing the extracted plutonium to strengthen North Korea’s nuclear deterrence.” The report didn’t specify where the process had taken place.

Last April 25, following international condemnation of its long-range rocket launch, North Korea said it had reactivated its nuclear facilities to develop weapons-grade plutonium. The North said the move was designed to “cope with the increasing military threats from hostile forces.”

Then on Sept. 4, the KCNA reported that Sin Son-ho, the top North Korean envoy at the United Nations, wrote a letter to the UN Security Council saying that the country’s reprocessing of spent fuel rods was “at its final phase and extracted plutonium is being weaponized.”

The latest news came just a day after the North prodded the United States to sit down for direct talks to deal with the nuclear issue. The North said Monday it was time for the U.S. to respond to its “magnanimous” offer of talks.

If Washington was not ready to sit down, Pyongyang said it “will go its own way.” The United States has not responded to the North’s earlier demand. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly did not comment on the issue during the press briefing yesterday, Korean time, saying only the U.S. is “still considering” the North’s invitation.

Ri Gun, the North’s No. 2 nuclear negotiator, met with top U.S. nuclear representative Sung Kim in New York on Oct. 25 before attending a forum in San Diego, California. The North said Monday that there was no discussion on substantial issues during the men’s encounter. Kelly said Ri and Kim had “very useful discussions.”

Pyongyang wants to deal directly with Washington to discuss nuclear issues, while the U.S. sees any direct contact with North Korea as an opportunity to persuade the reclusive regime to return to the stalled six-party talks.

The North may have one more card up its sleeve. In September, it claimed its uranium enrichment program had entered its final stage. The North had acknowledged its clandestine enrichment program in June, ending nearly seven years of denials.

About 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of highly enriched uranium are considered necessary for an atomic bomb.


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

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