N. Korea to "weaponize" plutonium in response to U.N. resolution

North Korea reacted with anger Saturday to a U.N. resolution meant to punish the country for its latest nuclear test, saying it will ''weaponize'' more plutonium, begin uranium enrichment and react militarily to blockades.

In a Foreign Ministry statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, North Korea also called the resolution ''yet another vile product of the U.S.-led offensive'' aimed at undermining North Korea's ideology and system.

The statement came less than a day after the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to impose a broad range of additional financial, trade and other sanctions on North Korea, including stricter enforcement of North Korean cargo inspections.

As part of countermeasures, North Korea will ''weaponize'' the entire amount of plutonium that will be extracted from the latest batch of spent nuclear fuel rods, KCNA reported the statement as saying.

North Korea has said it is in the process of separating plutonium from the fuel rods at the country's main Yongbyon nuclear reactor. There had been 8,000 nuclear fuel rods in the reactor.

''More than one third of the spent fuel rods has been reprocessed to date,'' the report quoted the statement as saying.

The new ''weaponized'' plutonium would boost North Korea's existing nuclear arsenal which experts estimate to be at least several nuclear weapons.

North Korea has never clearly stipulated the meaning of ''weaponized,'' but observers have interpreted it to mean producing nuclear warheads.

In the statement, North Korea also announced for the first time that it will start uranium enrichment activities, explaining it as part of a plan to build reactors for peaceful purposes.

''Enough success has been made in developing uranium enrichment technology'' to allow experimental procedures, the report said, in a rare reference to the country's level of technical progress in the area.

While enriched uranium is needed for light-water reactors, it could also be used for nuclear weapons.

U.S. accusations that North Korea was engaging in uranium enrichment activities triggered the current nuclear crisis.

The statement also said that blockades of any kind will be regarded ''as an act of war'' and met with ''a decisive military response.''

The latest Security Council resolution calls on U.N. members to seize North Korean ships if they are suspected of carrying missile or nuclear items. It also calls for an expanded freeze on the assets of North Korean entities and individuals.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on June 13, 2009)

Comment: Calm strategic response needed
by Junichiro Hayashi, Staff Writer

In response to an additional resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea that has been adopted by the U.N. Security Council, North Korea is clearly showing a confrontational stance by accelerating its development of nuclear weapons. With the nation pulling out of the six-party talks and threatening to conduct a third nuclear test, the international community, and the A-bombed nation of Japan, in particular, must exhibit a calm strategic response. We must not forget that such a response can help further the security and denuclearization of North East Asia.

North Korea, which maintains uranium mines, is believed to have been engaged in the development of nuclear weapons since the late 1950s. The nation then went ahead with nuclear tests in October 2006 and on May 25, 2009. But the fact remains that the real situation of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is veiled in secrecy.

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a think tank in the U.S., estimates that North Korea has extracted 15 to 40 kilograms of plutonium as of the end of 2003 and possessed two to nine nuclear weapons. Still, the circumstances of the uranium enrichment in North Korea are unknown. Many experts are skeptical about how successful the nation is in producing miniaturized nuclear warheads capable of being loaded onto a missile.

Masafumi Takubo, 58, a Tokyo resident versed in the world’s nuclear issues, noted, “There has been no dramatic change in North Korea’s nuclear situation. It is important to take the view of observing this situation without overreacting to North Korea.”

An attempt by North Korea to maintain the regime of Kim Jong-il, whose health concerns have been the subject of speculation, is believed to lie behind its development of nuclear weapons. North Korea’s contention that it has been developing nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear attack by the U.S. reveals the nation’s intention to use its nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip.

In South Korea, the “nuclear sovereignty” argument that encourages the pursuit of nuclear capability on a par with Japan has gained momentum since North Korea’s nuclear test in May, while some in Japan have begun to advocate the doctrine of preemptive attack against bases in North Korea since the test. But is it in our interest to counter nuclear with nuclear and respond to threats with military force? It is now time for Japan to reconsider its policy of relying on the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” for security in spite of its status as an A-bombed nation. The city of Hiroshima, in its quest for nuclear abolition, is calling for the world to follow the path of denuclearization, which would remove the peril of possessing nuclear arms. This posture of denuclearization by Japan would surely help sway North Korea.

(Originally published on June 14, 2009)

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