- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

SEOUL North Korea has a stockpile of 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons and is believed to be capable of producing 1 ton of biological weapons annually, South Korea's Defense Ministry said yesterday.

The communist state's stockpile of chemical weapons consists of 17 different types that can be used to dispense nerve gases, the ministry said in a report presented to the National Assembly. North Korea can produce about 4,500 tons of chemical weapons every year, it said.

Pyongyang's army also has biological weapons involving 13 different lethal germs and viruses, the ministry said.

Mike Moody, president of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute in Washington, said the South Korean estimates represented "a significant amount" of chemical weapons.

By comparison, Russia had 40,000 tons of chemical weapons when it was forced to declare the numbers by the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty. The United States had 30,000 tons before it began to dismantle its reserves.

Mr. Moody noted that the production of an agent does not always translate into an effective chemical or biological weapon. Its effectiveness depends on several factors, including the quality of production, means of dispersal and intended target.

North Korea signed the Biological Weapons Convention in 1987 but has been called a leading violator of the international treaty that bans germ warfare.

Under its ruling principle of "army-first politics," North Korea has produced and deployed long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States and has sold some missiles to Iran and Syria. Experts say the missiles can be fitted with biochemical warheads.

To cope with attacks from the North, South Korean military authorities have bought vaccines capable of inoculating 10,000 soldiers against anthrax, officials said.

Last month, South Korea renounced the use of biological weapons "under any circumstances," despite criticism that the decision was "premature" as long as North Korea poses a military threat.

"The decision was aimed at putting pressure on North Korea to take a reciprocal measure against biochemical weapons," a senior official said on the condition of anonymity. But South Korea has retained the right to use chemical weapons as a deterrent against the North, the official said.

John Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, echoed the concerns about North Korea's biological and chemical warfare capabilities during a recent visit to Seoul.

"In regard to chemical weapons, there is little doubt that North Korea has an active program," he said in a speech last month. "The U.S. government believes that North Korea has one of the most robust offensive bioweapons programs on Earth."

The United States believes North Korea has also diverted enough plutonium to make one or two nuclear bombs before agreeing to freeze production in 1994. Pyongyang has rejected international calls for inspectors to be allowed into its nuclear facilities to verify that weapons development has halted.

South Korean Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong urged North Korea last week to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, saying "the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" was a key challenge in the peace process between the two Koreas.

"It is now essential that the full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency begin without further delay for the implementation of safeguards requirements" of the 1994 nuclear accord, he said in an address on Friday to the U.N. General Assembly.

Staff writer Maria Tsigas contributed to this report in Washington.

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