The International Atomic Energy Agency could be asked by participants in six-party denuclearization talks to verify that North Korea has a uranium enrichment program, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday (see GSN, March 30).
Use of the U.N. nuclear watchdog is being floated as a possible means of securing Chinese support for a U.N. Security Council response to Pyongyang's proclaimed uranium activities. Beijing has argued the Security Council should not address the North's declared nuclear material enrichment as it does not have any hard proof of the effort.
"The idea is that we conduct a joint investigation into the [uranium enrichment program]," a diplomatic source said. "As China, in particular, has taken a position that it cannot recognize the UEP's existence because it did not confirm it by itself, this means we should carry out a joint investigation."
U.S. nuclear weapons expert Siegfried Hecker briefed U.N. officials about a tour he received in November of a North Korean uranium enrichment facility. Pyongyang is forbidden under Security Council resolutions from enriching uranium, which could provide a second avenue for generating weapon-grade material.
The United States and South Korea are seeking a Security Council statement that the North's uranium program is illegal and military in nature in order to block assertions by Pyongyang from that the program is for civilian purposes. China, though, has argued the six-party framework is the more appropriate setting to address the issue.
The diplomatic official said participants in six-party talks and the U.N. nuclear agency should take part in the investigation to ensure it is impartial and balanced.
Beijing, however, does not support a joint investigation, according to sources.
Potential IAEA involvement in a joint inquiry "is not being discussed specifically" by six-party talks participants, a high-ranking government official said (Yonhap News Agency I, March 31).
"We are working closely with our partners and allies to make clear to the D.P.R.K. that its uranium enrichment program violates its commitments and obligations," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said on Thursday.
The Obama Administration was calling on other nations to do more to enforce U.N. resolutions aimed at stopping North Korea's weapons proliferation activities, Yonhap quoted Campbell as saying at a Capitol Hill hearing.
"We continue to urge the international community to fully and transparently implement [U.N. Security Council Resolutions] 1718 and 1874 to curb the D.P.R.K.'s conventional and WMD-related proliferation efforts, as well as its illicit activities," Campbell said.
The State Department's leading diplomat for East Asia also warned North Korea not to carry out any new attacks against the South. Pyongyang is believed by Washington and Seoul to be behind two 2010 attacks that killed a total of 50 South Koreans (Hwang Doo-hyong, Yonhap News Agency II, April 1).
North Korea, however, on Thursday said South Korea must "choose between dialogue and war" and must cease in blaming the Stalinist state for the sinking one year ago of the warship Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, Yonhap reported.
Pyongyang's powerful National Defense Commission issued a statement saying it would keep on probing the ship sinking until South Korea stops its accusations. A South Korean-led international probe last year concluded a North Korean submarine-launched torpedo had halved the navy ship.
An NDC spokesman also told state-controlled media that the North was justified for firing on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island last November because the South first fired into waters North Korea claims as its own. That incident killed four people.
"The South Korean authorities and military warmongers should not persist in their reckless anti-D.P.R.K. hysteria under the pretext of the two cases," the NDC official said (Sam Kim, Yonhap News Agency III, March 31).
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Friday rejected the North's call for engagement and said "they need to express their apology for what they have done. After that, we can move on to the next step," Agence France-Presse reported.
The United States and other six-party participants have said they would not return to the aid-for-denuclearization talks until inter-Korean relations have improved (Agence France-Presse/Google News, March 31).
Separately, U.S. and South Korean officials agreed in talks this week to stage a joint tabletop exercise aimed at developing military and political responses to North Korea's repeated threats of nuclear war, Yonhap reported.
"South Korea and the U.S. agreed to hold a tabletop exercise in the second half of this year on deterrence measures to cope with North Korea's nuclear threats," an unidentified South Korean Defense Ministry official said on Friday.
The exercise is to involve diplomats and defense officials from both nations. Computers will generate two to three nuclear threat scenarios that they will have to respond to, the official said.
Several tabletop exercises are to take place. U.S. and South Korean officials are to use the results from the exercises to analyze which types of responses are the most effective at stopping Pyongyang's WMD threats, the official said (Yonhap News Agency IV, April 1).