- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

North Korea has been working covertly to develop an enrichment capability for nuclear weapons for at least five years and has used technology obtained from Pakistan and other nations, according to U.S. officials.
The issue of North Korea's nuclear-arms program came to a head earlier this month when evidence of the secret program was presented to North Korean officials.
A senior North Korean official confirmed the violations of the 1994 Agreed Framework, a pact under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze and dismantle its weapons program, the State Department said Wednesday night.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that he was not surprised by the North Korean government announcement.
The U.S. intelligence community view is that "the United States has been concerned about North Korea's desire for nuclear weapons, and has assessed, since the early 1990s, that the North may have one or two weapons," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
"Things are being done underground, things are being done very cleverly," he said. "And we live in a world of surprise. We live in a world of little or no warning. We ought to expect that there are going to be things that occur that we didn't know."
A U.S. official said the intelligence community has been saying since 1998 that the North Korean government continued its covert nuclear-weapons program, despite freezing work on the reactor facility at Yongbyon, which was making plutonium.
Intelligence officials said the first indications of North Korean violations of the 1994 accord surfaced in 1997. U.S. intelligence agencies discovered the construction of a large underground complex at Kumchangni, north of the capital of Pyongyang, that was believed to be used for a secret nuclear reactor to build plutonium.
Then in 1999, the Department of Energy, which monitors foreign nuclear programs, exposed a major new development: North Korea had shifted its focus from plutonium-based weapons to those fueled by enriched uranium.
A classified Energy Department intelligence report, obtained by The Washington Times, stated that a North Korean company tried to circumvent Japanese export controls by purchasing "frequency converters" from a Japanese company.
The sale was blocked by the Japanese government, but North Korea is believed to have obtained similar equipment from another supplier, U.S. officials said.
"Specification of these converters indicates they are dual-use items almost certainly for use in a gas centrifuge cascade to enrich uranium," the 1999 report said.
"The two frequency converters being sought by [North Korea] are not sufficient by themselves to do a significant amount of uranium enrichment," it stated.
The report said the two converters, which are electrical components of centrifuges, were to be used by the North Koreans for "a single machine or a test cascade," a series of centrifuges linked together.
The report said the purchases showed that North Korea was "in the early stages of a uranium-enrichment capability."
The report also said that because North Korea and Pakistan had close relations on missile development, "Pakistan may well have lent some level of assistance on uranium enrichment" to the North Koreans.
"On the basis of Pakistan's progress with a similar technology, we estimate that [North Korea] is at least six years from the production of highly-enriched uranium, even if it has a viable centrifuge design," the report said. "On the other hand, with significant technical support from other countries such as Pakistan, the time frame could be decreased by several years.
"What assistance Pakistan has provided thus far, or promised for the future is an open question," the report said. "Likewise, [North Koreas] frequent interactions with elements of the Pakistan missile-development community may have yielded insights on the design of a uranium-based nuclear weapon."
The latest intelligence was outlined in a National Intelligence Estimate produced several months ago that revealed that North Korea has been working on a system of producing highly enriched uranium from a series of centrifuges.
"The North Koreans have been working on nuclear weapons for so long that if they succeeded in producing fissile material through enrichment, it's a short step to making a bomb," said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.
Mr. Milhollin said enriched uranium is easier to handle than plutonium the fuel used in the one or two nuclear bombs that Pyongyang is believed to have from its earlier nuclear-arms program.
"I think the one big effect of this development is that the present arrangement with North Korea is dead," Mr. Milhollin said. "The whole [northeast Asia] region has to get together now on the North Korean problem, and that includes Japan. The Japanese are going to have to take an aggressive diplomatic role in this."
Other reports from North Korea indicate that Pyongyang's drive to acquire nuclear weapons has been long-standing.
Hwang Jang-yop, the highest ranking North Korean official to defect from the communist regime, disclosed in 1996 that North Korea had several nuclear weapons and had planned to conduct an underground test the last stage in a fully developed nuclear-weapons program. The test was put off, however, Mr. Hwang said.
Mr. Hwang's revelations led to the discovery of the Kumchangni underground complex.
Mr. Hwang, who has been blocked from visiting the United States by the government of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, which has sought closer ties with Pyongyang, also revealed new information about North Korea's huge chemical- and biological-weapons arsenal. He described North Korea's chemical-weapons program as consisting of "high grade" deadly poisons, including nerve agents, blistering agents and blood agents.
Henry Sokolski, head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said the admission by North Korea of its secret nuclear program means Pyongyang will be able to produce large numbers of nuclear weapons in the future.
"They have uranium mines all over the place," Mr. Sokolski said. "Once they get this process going, there are going to be big problems."


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