- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

North Korea's record of weapons proliferation and terrorism has raised fears that its nuclear bombs could fall into the hands of al Qaeda terrorists, weapons specialists and diplomats said.
"A nuclear nightmare and one that is within the realm of the possible is the export by North Korea of nuclear material, and even nuclear weapons, to terrorists," said William Potter, director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
"Certainly, groups such as al Qaeda must be attracted by the prospect of unsafeguarded nuclear material controlled by an impoverished and isolated regime which already has broken many of its international nonproliferation commitments," Mr. Potter said.
Since North Korea announced its intention on Jan. 10 to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, concern has focused on the possibility that the Stalinist nation would use spent fuel rods from a mothballed reactor to build additional nuclear bombs.
The United States believes North Korea already has two nuclear bombs to complement its massive army, potent ballistic-missile force and stockpile of biological and chemical weapons.
Although there is no hard evidence linking Osama bin Laden's terrorist network to North Korea, Pyongyang has sold missiles and technology to Iran, Pakistan, Yemen and others.
"It's a frightening scenario," said a diplomat with broad experience in Asia. "We know al Qaeda wants these weapons, and we know North Korea desperately needs hard currency."
A CIA report to Congress made public earlier this month identified North Korea as a key supplier of nuclear-, chemical- and biological-weapons materials and missiles to other nations.
The CIA stated that during the last six months of 2001, "North Korea continued to export significant ballistic-missilerelated equipment, components, materials and technical expertise to the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa.
"Pyongyang attaches high priority to the development and sale of ballistic missiles and equipment, and related technology. Exports of ballistic missiles and related technology are one of the North's major sources of hard currency, which fuel continued missile development and production."
The report made no connection between North Korea and weapons support to terrorist groups.
However, the report said the threat of terrorists using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons "appears to be rising."
The CIA found evidence during the war in Afghanistan of al Qaeda efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.
That intelligence, according to the Congressional Research Service, "influenced the Bush administration to broaden the definition of the war against terrorism to include states like North Korea that potentially could supply weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda."
North Korea's mercurial leader, Kim Jong-il, has in the past used those weapons successfully as bargaining chips with the United States, Japan and South Korea to garner aid to prop up his moribund economy.
For the past decade, Washington and its allies have feared that a miscalculation by Mr. Kim, whose government earlier this week dismissed conciliatory gestures from the Bush administration, might lead to a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, where 37,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
The North's record on terrorism, which includes the bombing of civilian airliners, assassinations and kidnappings, also makes it an appealing partner for international terrorists in the wake of September 11, analysts say.
In its rhetorical blasts at the United States, officially atheist North Korea last week even borrowed a phrase from Muslim fanatics by vowing to wage a "holy war" against the United States.
North Korea has had links for decades with Japanese Red Army terrorists who regularly traveled between Pyongyang and the Middle East.
While terrorist links conjure up horrific scenarios, defense analysts and diplomats warn that North Korea could act alone out of desperation.
"Even if they dragged a nuclear bomb to the DMZ in an ox cart, the effects could be devastating," said the Asian diplomat, who asked for anonymity.
In December 2001 the National Intelligence Council, an advisory board reporting to the CIA director, determined in a "finding" that North Korea has produced one, possibly two, nuclear bombs.
If it goes ahead with reprocessing fuel rods from its dormant Yongbyon plant, it could produce enough plutonium for four to six more bombs within four months, U.S. officials say.
In addition, North Korea since the 1960s has been working on biological weapons including smallpox, cholera, yellow fever, typhus and other viruses.
"North Korea has a dedicated, national-level effort to achieve a biological-weapons capability and has developed and produced, and may have weaponized, biological weapons," John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a congressional hearing last year.
Pyongyang also is believed to have the capacity to produce some 4,500 tons of chemical weapons annually, including mustard, phosgene and sarin, which could be delivered across the DMZ by artillery.
North Korea's ballistic-missile arsenal includes hundreds of Scuds and No Dong rockets.
It is developing Taepo Dong-2 missiles that would be capable of reaching the United States, according to a recent CIA National Intelligence Estimate.
Even a conventional war on the Korean Peninsula would be catastrophic.
North Korea's 1.2-million-man army is the world's fourth- or fifth-largest fighting force.
Two-thirds of those soldiers are stationed within 60 miles of the DMZ, along with thousands of Cold War-era tanks and armored personnel carriers.
"Korea remains a place where U.S. forces could almost instantaneously become engaged in a high-intensity war involving significant ground, air and naval forces," the former commander of U.S. forces in Korea, Gen. Thomas A. Schwartz, told a congressional committee last year. "Such a war would cause loss of life numbering in the hundreds of thousands and cause billions of dollars in property destruction."
Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, points out that nuclear-weapons programs in Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and the Ukraine were shuttered only after transitions away from military or militaristic governments.


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