- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 5, 2009

SEOUL | The United States on Friday expressed concern over North Korea’s latest claim that it is on the threshold of mastering a new way of building atomic bombs.

Pyongyang’s claim to have succeeded in experimental uranium enrichment - an easier way to make nuclear weapons - raises concerns that North Korea may add uranium-based weapons to enlarge its stockpile of atomic bombs made from plutonium.

North Korea also said it is continuing to weaponize plutonium.

“We are prepared for both dialogue and sanctions,” the North said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council carried Friday by its official Korean Central News Agency. If some veto-wielding permanent members of the council put “sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence first before we meet them in a dialogue,” it said.

The letter from North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Sin Son Ho, obtained by the Associated Press, accused the Security Council of using a double standard and said it should apologize rather than impose sanctions.

If the Security Council had not made an issue of North Korea’s “peaceful satellite launch in the same way as it kept silent over the satellite launch conducted by South Korea on Aug. 25, 2009, it would not have compelled the [North Korea] to take strong counteraction such as its second nuclear test,” the letter said.

The Security Council slapped tough sanctions on North Korea for conducting an underground nuclear test in May.

The letter was sent to U.S. Ambassador Susan E. Rice, this month’s president of the Security Council. The U.S. mission said it was received Thursday and sent to the 14 other council members that night.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the North’s announcement was troubling.

“We are very concerned by these claims that they are moving closer to the weaponization of nuclear materials, but I can’t really comment on the veracity, how true these claims are,” Mr. Kelly said.

Security Council diplomats said they do not anticipate a council meeting on the letter or a new U.N. resolution.

The U.S. has pressed for North Korea to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program. The North pulled out of the negotiations with the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia and Japan after the council criticized its April rocket launch.

Pyongyang said later it won’t return to the negotiations and will only talk one-on-one with the Obama administration.

Analysts said the North appears to be trying to add urgency to the standoff to get Washington into one-on-one talks.

“I think this is a ‘let’s-have-direct talks’ message,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies. “The North is saying that the more delayed U.S.-North Korea talks are, the greater its nuclear capabilities will become.”

Washington’s special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is in the region for discussions with China, South Korea and Japan over how to bring Pyongyang back to six-nation talks that the North has boycotted since earlier this year.

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