- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

North Korea could build several plutonium bombs right away and add one every year until about 2005 if the 1994 Agreed Framework collapses, a CIA analysis says.

By the middle of the decade, however, North Korea could begin producing enough plutonium to make up to 50 bombs a year, the CIA revealed in an unclassified estimate released to Congress.

The estimate for plutonium bombs does not include additional bombs that could be made under Pyongyang's covert uranium-enrichment program, which could begin producing enough fuel for one to two uranium bombs per year beginning in 2005.

In Pyongyang, North Korea's Foreign Ministry announced yesterday that the 1994 agreement had collapsed because of the decision last week by the United States to halt fuel-oil shipments to North Korea.

"Now that the U.S. unilaterally gave up its last commitment under the framework, the [North] acknowledges that it is high time to decide upon who is to blame for the collapse of the framework," a ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official news agency, KCNA.

Japan's government said on Wednesday that it remains committed to building two nuclear reactors in North Korea despite Pyongyang's covert nuclear-arms program. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said in Tokyo that the government continues to back the Agreed Framework.

The CIA statement shows that it would take North Korea five to six years after jettisoning the 1994 arms-control pact before it could begin large-scale production of nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration suspended fuel-oil shipments to North Korea last week after a senior North Korean official disclosed in an October meeting with U.S. officials that Pyongyang secretly was building uranium-based weapons.

The administration was debating whether to abandon the treaty, which required that the United States, Japan and South Korea build two nuclear-power reactors in North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang's ending its nuclear-arms program.

Some officials favor keeping the agreement while others say the North Korean violations show that the communist government, which President Bush has said is part of an "axis of evil," cannot be trusted.

Incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, said last week that the agreement should be kept. Mr. Lugar told The Washington Times that "we need a construct that stops the production of more weapons by North Korea."

The CIA estimate, obtained by The Times, states that the North Koreans could begin producing highly enriched uranium in the next three years.

"We recently learned that the North is constructing a plant that could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for two or more nuclear weapons per year when fully operational which could be as soon as mid-decade," the CIA said.

The plutonium-based nuclear-arms program used fuel from three reactors to produce enough for up to two bombs before 1992, the CIA said.

That program was supposed to have stopped under the Agreed Framework, which was hailed by the Clinton administration as a major arms-control breakthrough.

Signs that North Korea was continuing to develop nuclear arms were identified by U.S. intelligence as early as 1999, U.S. officials have said.

Under a section headed "If the Framework collapses," the CIA said North Korea could begin reprocessing plutonium again if it abandons the Agreed Framework.

"Reprocessing the spent 5 megawatt-electric reactor fuel now in storage at Yongbyon site under [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards would recover enough plutonium for several more weapons," the CIA stated in a brief unclassified statement.

"Restarting the 5 megawatt reactor would generate about 6 kilograms [of plutonium] per year," it said. "The 50 megawatt-electric reactor at Yongbyon and the 200 megawatt-electric reactor at Taechon would generate about 275 kilograms per year, although it would take several years to complete construction of these reactors."

Arms specialists said about 5 kilograms of plutonium is required for one bomb, making the bomb-production rate about 55 weapons per year after the reactors are completed.

The CIA stated that despite the agreement to halt plutonium production at the Yongbyon facility, "we have assessed, however, that the North has continued its nuclear weapons program."

Regarding the uranium-bomb program, the CIA said it had been suspicious about Pyongyang's work on enrichment for several years.

"However, we did not obtain clear evidence indicating the North had begun constructing a centrifuge facility until recently," the CIA said. "We assess that North Korea embarked on the effort to develop a centrifuge-based uranium enrichment program about two years ago."

Last year, procurement agents for North Korea "began seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities," the CIA said, noting that the North Koreans "also obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems."

The CIA stated that assessing North Korea's nuclear program is difficult to gauge accurately because of the closed communist system and "the obvious covert nature of the program."

Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, which first obtained the CIA analysis, said the report indicates that North Korea will not be able to build more nuclear weapons rapidly outside of the Agreed Framework until five or six years.

"The North Koreans cannot break out with a large amount of plutonium bombs very quickly beyond what they already have," Mr. Sokolski said.

Critics, including members of Congress, said the Agreed Framework was killed by the North Koreans. A senior North Korean official told Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly in early October that the agreement was nullified, U.S. officials said.

"The era of negotiation with North Korea is over because negotiations have failed categorically," said one congressional aide.

"North Korea is going to try to build bombs no matter what we do," the aide said. "Their goal is to have nuclear weapons. Our goal should be to stop as many dual-use exports to this regime as we can."

Mr. Sokolski notes: "All this suggests that trying to fine-tune an agreement for plutonium or uranium is a mistake. We've got to change the regime."

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