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North Korea: Libya Erred in Giving Up Nuke Program

North Korea on Tuesday said Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi's 2003 decision to give up his pursuit of a nuclear deterrent left his nation open to attack by outside forces. Some experts saw the comments as indicating Pyongyang remains committed to its own nuclear weapons drive, the New York Times reported (see GSN, March 24).

An unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry official condemned the ongoing coalition airstrikes on Qadhafi forces and told state media that Tripoli was tricked by the West into giving up its nuclear-weapon technology in "an invasion tactic to disarm the country."

In exchange for diplomatic recognition and economic aid, Tripoli surrendered technology that included a largely complete warhead design and 4,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges capable of generating fissile material (see GSN, March 1).

"The Libyan crisis is teaching the international community a grave lesson," the official said, emphasizing that the North's strategy of building up its own military was "proper in a thousand ways" and the only assurance of stability for the Korean Peninsula.

High-ranking officials in Pyongyang tracking the air assaults on Libya "must feel alarmed, but also deeply satisfied with themselves," Korea University professor Rüdiger Frank wrote in a web posting.

The Qadhafi case was "at least the third instance in two decades that would seem to offer proof that they did something right while others failed and ultimately paid the price," Frank said. He cited the former Soviet Union's determination to stop its military buildup and to "abandon the political option to use their weapons of mass destruction," along with ex-Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein's acceptance of international WMD monitors into Iraq.

"To put it bluntly in the eyes of the North Korean leadership all three countries took the economic bait, foolishly disarmed themselves, and once they were defenseless, were mercilessly punished by the West," Frank said.

"It requires little imaginative power to see what conclusions will be drawn in Pyongyang," the professor said, asserting that any high-level North Korean voices who supported nuclear disarmament "will now be silent."

The Stalinist state is believed to possess enough processed plutonium to fuel six warheads. A recently announced uranium enrichment program could give the country a second avenue for generating fissile material, though the North is not yet known to have developed the ability to fit nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles. It has carried out two nuclear tests to date.

The Obama administration argued there was no connection between Qadhafi's surrender of his WMD program and the ongoing international bombardment in Libya.

"Where they're at today has absolutely no connection with them renouncing their nuclear program or nuclear weapons," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

North Korea's statements on Libya throw further doubt on the prospects of relaunching the long-stalled six nation negotiations aimed at the North's permanent denuclearization. Japan, South Korea and the United States have said they would not return to the talks unless they are assured that Pyongyang is committed to nuclear disarmament (Mark McDonald, New York Times, March 24).

The State Department on Thursday confirmed that ex-President Carter would travel to the North, though in an unofficial capacity, Reuters reported. Reports this week indicated the trip would occur next month and would involve delegates such as former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"We have been made aware of his trip. I am not aware of any plans that we have to talk with him," Toner said at a media briefing.

"He is traveling in a private capacity," the spokesman continued. "He is not traveling with an official U.S. delegation and he does not carry an official message" (Reuters, March 24).

The U.S.-based Aspen Institute on Thursday said high-ranking North Korean officials would discuss with one-time U.S. officials nuclear disarmament and U.S.-North Korean ties at a conference the think tank is sponsoring this weekend in Berlin, the Associated Press reported.

The Obama administration has said it is not participating in the conference (Associated Press/Yahoo!News, March 24).

Meanwhile, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin on Friday asserted Pyongyang was planning new strikes against his nation, Agence France-Presse reported.

"North Korea is plotting a second, third provocation beyond our imagination like the attack" one year ago on the naval vessel Cheonan , Kim said in a communication to the South Korean military.

A submarine-launched torpedo is believed to have sunk the warship and killed 46 South Korean sailors. A Seoul-led investigation concluded North Korea was behind the incident, though Pyongyang has denied any responsibility.

"We must bear in our mind that North Korea will provoke again," the defense chief said.

The South is conducting multiple armed force maneuvers this week in a display of military might to North Korea (Agence France-Presse/Straits Times, March 25).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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