Friday, November 26, 2004

North Korea threatened in secret talks to export nuclear weapons and to conduct a test blast, according to a CIA report made public this week.

“In late April 2003 during the Six-Party Talks in Beijing, North Korea privately threatened to ‘transfer’ or ‘demonstrate’ its nuclear weapons,” the semiannual report on arms proliferation to Congress stated.

“North Korea repeated these threats at the Six-Party Talks in August 2003.”

The CIA’s description was the first official confirmation that the official North Korean statements were a threat. The disclosure also contradicted public comments on the matter by Bush administration spokesmen.

The North Korean threat to export nuclear arms and to test a nuclear device was first reported by The Washington Times of May 7, 2003.

The danger of North Korean nuclear transfers to other nations or entities is being taken seriously by the commander of U.S. military forces in South Korea, Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte.

Gen. LaPorte said in a speech Nov. 17 that “there is concern that North Korea, in its desire for hard currency, would sell weapons-grade plutonium to some terrorist organizations.”

The State Department, eager to continue dialogue with North Korea, has sought to play down the threats.

After a Chinese diplomat publicly repeated the North Korean threat in June, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters that comments by North Korean officials about wanting to conduct a nuclear test “were not phrased as a threat.”

The CIA report notes the threats followed a December 2003 proposal by Pyongyang to freeze nuclear activities and hold off on exporting nuclear arms in exchange for rewards.

Administration officials said the threat was first made by North Korean official Li Gun during a meeting with James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, during a closed-door meeting in Beijing.

Mr. Li’s comment was described at the time by one official as “clearly a threat.”

Mr. Li told Mr. Kelly that the communist state would “export nuclear weapons, add to its current arsenal or test a nuclear device,” the official said.

Mr. Li said the specific actions by North Korea on its nuclear program would be based on how the United States responded to its overtures.

Mr. Kelly later testified before Congress that he “strongly cautioned them against any escalation.”

The six-party talks among China, the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia are stalled as a result of North Korea’s refusal to return for the next round. U.S. officials said they hope the next meeting of the six nations’ representatives will be in December or January.

A State Department official said yesterday that North Korea proposed in June that it would not make additional nuclear arms, will not test them and will not export them.

“We haven’t been back [to the negotiating table] since June 25,” said the official, explaining that the North Koreans said during the meetings that “elements” in North Korea are moving toward a nuclear test.

Also, North Korea has repeated that it will not export nuclear weapons if the United States meets its demands for rewards, the official said.

The CIA report said that North Korea continued development and production of ballistic missiles and that Pyongyang may be preparing for a flight test of its long-range Taepo Dong-2 missile. The missile is believed to be capable of “reaching parts of the United States with a nuclear-weapon-sized payload,” the report says.

“North Korea has demonstrated a willingness to sell complete ballistic missile systems and components that have enabled other states to acquire longer-range capabilities earlier than would otherwise have been possible and to acquire the basis for domestic development efforts,” according to the report.

The CIA also stated that China continued to supply missile-related goods to Pakistan and Iran.

However, the report states that “Chinese entities continued to work with Pakistan and Iran on ballistic missile-related projects during the second half of 2003.”

The report adds: “Chinese entity assistance has helped Pakistan move toward domestic serial production of solid-propellant [short-range ballistic missiles] and has supported Pakistan’s development of solid-propellant [medium-range ballistic missiles].”

China also supplied missile goods to Iran, Libya and North Korea, according to the report.

On other issues, the CIA report states that:

• Syria is developing a nuclear research center at Dayr Al Hajar and “we are monitoring Syrian nuclear intentions with concern.”

• Syria’s missile program received support from North Korea and Iran.

• Syria has chemical nerve agents and is developing more toxic and persistent nerve weapons.

• A Pakistani nuclear engineer, Bashir al-Din Mahmood, discussed nuclear weapons development with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and may have provided assistance to the terror group.

• Russia is playing a key role in building nuclear power reactors in Iran, China and India.

• Russian companies supplied missile equipment and know-how to Iran, India and China, and were instrumental in speeding up Iran’s Shahab-3 medium-range missile.

• Russia has failed to tighten controls on exports of weapons and weapons-related goods.

• Iran bought dual-use military and commercial goods from Western European states, as did Pakistan and India, and North Korea sought uranium enrichment material from Western European states.

The European states were not identified, but other officials have said supplier nations include France and Germany.

The report also states there is “growing concern” among U.S. intelligence agencies that ingredients for weapons of mass destruction will continue to be sold by “nonstate actors.”

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