Monday, June 02, 2003
POWERS THAT BE CAN'T MAKE UP THEIR COLLECTIVE MINDS ON THE NORTH KOREAN NUCLEAR THREAT (NYT free registration required)
President Roh Moo Hyun of South Korea caught the mood in ambivalent remarks timed for the 100th day of his presidency in which he seemed to dispute United States intelligence estimates that the North has one or two nuclear warheads. Although North Korea had told American officials that it had developed nuclear weapons and reprocessed spent fuel rods, Mr. Roh said in remarks broadcast by Korean television networks, the North "has not confirmed that to anyone else."It is hard to say which claims are correct. It is, however, important to note that without the threat of possessing nukes, there is little about North Korea that would entice the outside world to pay attention to it and give it concessions. So, the DPRK might have an incentive to play up the degree to which it has developed nukes. Or, on the other hand, it might actually develop the weapons rather than talk about them.
The deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, said after seeing Mr. Roh that such uncertainty reinforced the need for "some way to verify what we know and those things we don't know." In the meantime, he said, "What we know suggests we should take what they say very seriously."
Representative Curt Weldon, Republican of Pennsylvania and vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, stopping here after leading six members of Congress on a visit to Pyongyang, reflected the the impressions that North Korea has been spreading in recent months of both its nuclear potential and its desire for dialogue with the United States. Senior North Korean officials had not only admitted having nuclear weapons, he said, but had confirmed they were expanding their nuclear weapons program and moreover had almost finished reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods. That claim, if correct, would enable the North to build several more nuclear warheads in a matter of months.