Talks could end N. Korean crisis peacefully, part VI

In the summer issue of the Naval War College Review, Dr. Jonathan Pollack, chairman of the Strategic Research Department of the Naval War College, said the CIA’s speculation on nuclear capability of North Korea has been inconsistent since 2001.

The CIA’s assessment, reaffirmed throughout the 1990s by many analysts, that North Korea had produced enough plutonium for one or two nuclear arms was changed into groundless estimation in 2001 that North Korea in the mid-1990s had actually produced one or two nuclear weapons.

Pollack added that subsequent intelligence reporting further altered earlier estimates without stated evidence or reasons.

The New York Times on July 1 said CIA reported satellites had identified an advanced testing site at Youngdoktong, slightly northwest of the Demilitarized Zone. However, there is no Youngdoktong or “no similar name” in this area. Pyongyang is north of the area where the alleged advanced testing site exists. Further north of Pyongyang, several cities exist with names similar to Youngdoktong, according to monthly magazine Mal on July 1.

Mal added that The New York Times made another mistake in August of 1998, saying a suspected underground facility existed in Kumchangni, 25 miles northeast of Yongbyon, but Kumchangni is actually 25 miles to the northwest.

The United States said on July 21 that the report of the new testing site was groundless, similar to the Kumchangni case in 1998, where a supposed underground nuclear facility was proven to be industrial or commercial facilities by a U.S. team’s investigations in 1999 and 2000.

Mal pointed out that these two reports quoted statements of anonymous U.S. intelligence officials or reports with ambiguous geographical designations and without common satellite photos.

A six-country summit was held Aug. 27-29 in Beijing to find a peaceful resolution to North Korea’s nuclear crisis.

In Bulletin of Atomic Scientists July/August, Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and former senior policy adviser for the Secretary of Energy, said, “It has been very destructive to exaggerate North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, as a number of right-wing ideologues have encouraged the U.S. military and intelligence community to do, simply to advance their arguments in favor of the National Missile Defense program.” Alvarez led U.S. teams in North Korea to establish control of nuclear weapons materials in 1994 and 1995.

Alvarez estimated North Korea “can’t produce” weapon-grade plutonium in a short term because its reprocessing facilities were constructed partially before the 1994 agreement and frozen afterwards, and pre-operational startup tests are required for reprocessing. Besides, a large amount of plutonium could be lost because North’s reprocessing work is done by hand ineffectively, not by remote-control instruments in a modern way.

Alvarez added regardless of these difficulties, the fierce efforts and desire of North Korea toward nuclear arsenals shouldn’t be underestimated.

An anniversary and a lull

North Korea “scaled down” its military parade to celebrate the regime’s 55th anniversary Sept. 9, showing off only troops and not large military hardware across Kim Il-sung Square without fielding missiles or military vehicles as expected, according to the Associated Press.

Donga Ilbo, a major publication in South Korea, on Sept. 10 analyzed the reduced parade and said it was in response to international concerns on North Korea’s belligerent move, which could endanger ongoing efforts of finding a diplomatic solution to Pyongyang’s nuclear desires. The Bush administration had moderated its position on providing incentives to North Korea on Sept 5.

North Korea agreed in principle to hold a second round of multilateral talks on its nuclear arms development program in Beijing in early November, a Japanese news agency reported on Sept. 12.

After the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 11 said North Korea has “apparently halted activity” at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, restarted in February, The New York Times on Sept. 13 said “American intelligence agencies are puzzling over evidence that North Korea has halted operations at its nuclear complex in Yongbyon, according to senior United States officials.”

New York Times remarked there was a debate among intelligence officials about whether the shutdown, which some described as fairly recent, reflects a technical problem, a good will gesture by the North, or a shift to another site. The Times explained uncertainty demonstrated the lack of information concerning North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The United States on Sept. 13 carried out the first U.S.-led interception program, known as the Proliferation Security Initiative proposed in May by President George W. Bush, with Australia, Japan and France among 11 countries. The exercise is designed to cut off the shipments to and from nations suspected of having illegal arms programs.

The New York Times on Sept. 10 reported the Bush administration was “stepping up pressure on North Korea on nuclear issue” with these joint exercises which were scheduled to be done up to 10 times in coming months. China, North Korea’s main trading partner, Russia and South Korea have not joined the intercepting program, according to USA TODAY on Sept. 10.

Upping the ante, again

The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Sept. 19 that U.S. intelligence analysts increased their estimates of the number of nuclear weapons North Korea actually possesses. The article said, “Some American intelligence analysts are becoming increasingly concerned that North Korea may have three, four or even six nuclear weapons instead of one or two, the CIA now estimates.”

The article also said that if Pyongyang has only one or two weapons, then they are viewed as last-resort options. However, if they have as many as six weapons, then multiple strikes are possible. Also, the possibility of selling one or two to other countries could become a reality.

Whether or not this speculation is a tactic by right-wing or hard line elements with the Bush administration to affect the talks is unclear. The real number of North Korean nuclear weapons is undetermined. The fact remains: Pyongyang has never tested any weapons.

North Korea adds rods to the fire

An Oct. 4 article in The Washington Post reported that North Korea itself asserted that it had reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods into plutonium for nuclear weapons, outlining its weapons program using new technology.

As many as 8,000 rods were supposedly recycled.

However, American, South Korean and Japanese diplomats debated the reality of the claims of recycling and new technology.

North Korea’s history of bluffing with various threats for concessions from the U.S. is well known.

However, the claim could also be a “sophisticated tactic to admit possession of nuclear arms,” said an editorial in South Korea’s Joong Ang Ilbo newspaper, according to the Washington Post article.

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