North Korea Might Have 18 Nukes in Nine Years, Report Says

GSN: A new report postulates that North Korea could have as many as 14 to 18 nuclear warheads within nine years if nuclear disarmament talks are unsuccessful, the Korea Times reported yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 17).

The report’s author, Joel Wit of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, stated that Pyongyang’s present nuclear arsenal is thought “to consist of sufficient plutonium to build four to eight weapons.”

According to Wit, “By using existing stocks of fresh fuel, North Korea could produce a bomb’s worth of plutonium each year from 2011 to 2013,” the Yonhap News Agency reported.

Should Pyongyang be successful in modernizing its nuclear material production facility, the pace of plutonium processing could go on into the foreseeable future, Wit predicted.

The Stalinist state is thought by some observers to presently have several nuclear bombs and some experts believe the aspiring nuclear power already has the technological ability to attach them to long-range missiles, the Herald reported.

In December, the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis reported that North Korea could speed up development work on fielding a nuclear-tipped ICBM.

In order to achieve its goal of being acknowledged by the global community as a nuclear power, North Korea can be expected to carry out a third nuclear test this year, according to the report. The isolated and impoverished state conducted its second test blast last year, an act for which it was punished with heightened U.N. Security Council sanctions.

“Compared to the first test held in October 2006, the second was evaluated to yield 4 kilotons of explosive power, five times more than the first one,” the report said. “This means North Korea has secured a substantial capability to make nuclear weapons” (Jung Sung-ki, Korea Times, Feb. 17).

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said yesterday that there were no plans for meetings with the North’s senior nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, the Korea Herald reported.

The six-party talks involve China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States and were last held in December 2008.

There has been media speculation that Kim would shortly travel to the United States and would talk with U.S. officials informally at an academic conference.

Washington dispatched its special envoy, Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang in December for bilateral discussions. Those talks did result in a statement from the North that there was a need to return to nuclear negotiations. Its conditions for doing so however — an end to sanctions and the initiation of bilateral peace talks with Washington — have been dismissed thus far by the United States and South Korea.

“I don’t have anything to announce on that, not at this time,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a Yonhap report.

While a diplomatic source in South Korea said talks were taking place about a Kim trip to the United States, he added, “No decision has been made yet on that” (Korea Herald, Feb. 18).

Elsewhere, Seoul shared details yesterday about plans for a slightly scaled-down joint military drill with the United States, Yonhap reported.

The annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercise is set to take place over 10 days next month and will include 18,000 U.S. soldiers, a somewhat reduced number than in years past, according to Combined Forces Command spokesman Kim Yong-kyu. Approximately 28,500 U.S. soldiers are based in South Korea as a safeguard against an outbreak of armed conflict with the North.

Pyongyang has been informed of the dates of the drill, which it usually characterizes as preparations for an invasion, according to a CFC press release (Yonhap News Agency, Feb. 17).

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