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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
North Korea's 'weapons ploy'
n korea
N Korea missile technology has alarmed neighbours


The reported admission by North Korea that it has a programme to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons raises the prospect of US military action against a nation described by President George W Bush as part of an "axis of evil."

nkorea reactor
Work on reactors started this summer
However, experts on North Korea suggest that the admission might be more of a bargaining ploy than a threat.

Is this about a nuclear device or a bargaining device?

Michael Yahuda, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, said the crucial factor was that North Korea, led by the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il, had made an admission.

"By admitting this, the North Koreans are trying to use it as leverage to get something from the United States."


Washington will want to be satisfied that North Korea does not in fact develop a nuclear bomb.

"That's how they have got things in the last ten years, by playing this kind of hardball brinksmanship," he said.

According to Professor Yahuda, the North Koreans have complained that they face problems in getting 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil which they were promised every year under a 1994 agreement on their nuclear programme.

Under the agreement, North Korea said that it would not develop nuclear weapons in exchange for the construction of two modern nuclear plants financed largely by South Korea and Japan. The oil was supposed to tide them over until the reactors come on stream.

But work on the reactors, supposed to be completed by 2003, started only this summer.

Funding in doubt

Money for the oil has to be approved by the US Congress and the Bush administration has refused this year to accept that North Korea is complying with terms of the 1994 agreement - so the money has been in doubt.

The agreement has never run smoothly.


By admitting this, the North Koreans are trying to use it as leverage to get something from the United States.

Professor Michael Yahuda
North Korea has not allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out full inspections of its plants as it was supposed to.

It had threatened to end the 1994 agreement and has now apparently done so.

The initial reaction of the United States has been to state that "We seek a peaceful resolution of this situation."

But given the militant mood of the Bush administration and its insistence on preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction to rogue states, Washington will want to be satisfied that North Korea does not in fact develop a nuclear bomb.

Sunshine policy goes on

In the meantime, South Korea says it will continue its "sunshine" policy towards the North. Yim Sung-joon, national security adviser to President Kim Dae-jung, also expressed the view that the North's admission was a signal that it wanted to talk.

"We regard it as a sign that North Korea is willing to resolve this problem through dialogue," he said.

An assessment by the CIA in March this year estimated that - before 1994 - the North had accumulated enough weapons-grade plutonium for at least one and possibly two nuclear devices.

The Federation of American Scientists says that North Korea has enough plutonium for three 20 kiloton nuclear warheads.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ian Pannell
"This is an explosive revelation"
The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Tokyo
"It has come as a real shock to the region"
Labour committee member Bruce George
"This is pretty much an open secret"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 May 02 | Americas
12 Dec 01 | In Depth
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