March 7, 2007


Washington Softens Tone on North Korea Uranium-Enrichment (Kurt Achin, 07 March 2007, Voice of America)

It was in October 2002 in Pyongyang that an eight-year-old U.S.-North Korea nuclear agreement known as the "Agreed Framework" screeched to a halt. U.S. officials presented North Korean negotiators with evidence that Pyongyang was violating the deal by undertaking a secret program to produce highly enriched uranium - HEU - presumably for use in nuclear weapons.

Tong Kim, then a high-level interpreter for the U.S. State Department, was in the room.

"What we said then was, we have convincing evidence. We said they were pursuing it. We didn't say how far they went, we didn't say they are producing HEU bombs," Kim said.

Kim, now an international relations professor here in Seoul, says North Korean officials acknowledged the program - something they have never done publicly, and which they now deny. He believes Pyongyang thought, erroneously, the acknowledgment would enhance their bargaining leverage with the United States.

Instead, it had the opposite effect. [...]

The chief U.S. nuclear negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, told a Washington audience last month that the North will still have to answer for its purchase in the 1990's of uranium-related centrifuges from the network of Pakistani nuclear pioneer A.Q. Khan.

However, Hill implied that Washington might now be willing to accept that the centrifuges, and related aluminum tubes purchased from Germany, were not part of an HEU program at all.

"At some point we need to see what's happened to this equipment," Hill said. "If the tubes did not go into a highly enriched uranium program, maybe they went somewhere else - fine. We can have a discussion about where they are and where they've gone."

Hill says the United States simply isn't sure how far the North might have developed a uranium program.

"It's a complex program," he noted. "It would require a lot more equipment than we know that they have actually purchased. It requires some considerable production techniques, that, we're not sure they've mastered those."

The intelligence agencies always overestimate the capabilities of our enemies, for two reasons: (1) they generally don't really understand how inferior these regimes are; and (2) they prefer stability, so are inclined to inflate the threat if we topple them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 7, 2007 7:49 AM
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