South Korea Rejects North's Nuclear Status Claim

South Korea on Thursday rejected North Korea's effort to declare itself a nuclear-armed nation through a constitutional amendment, the Yonhap News Agency reported (see GSN, May 30).

The updated constitution as of last month cites North Korea as a "nuclear-armed state," according to the text posted online on Wednesday. Such language had not been found in earlier changes to the document.

"At first, nuclear-weapon state status is in line with the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), but North Korea itself has admitted that it is not a member of the NPT," according to South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae.

Pyongyang declared in 2003 that it would no longer be a member state to the treaty. It has since conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and alternated between engagement and abandonment of six-nation talks on shuttering its atomic sector.

Cho said the North must "implement its commitments and give up all nuclear weapons programs" in accordance with the September 2005 deal reached by China, Japan, Russia, the United States and both Koreas. Pyongyang made only limited moves toward meeting its commitments under the aid-for-denuclearization agreement; it has been more than three years since the six-party talks were last held.

The regime's constitutional move is likely to further reduce any hope of restarting the negotiations, according to some issue experts.

There have also been signs that North Korea is preparing for its third nuclear test (Yonhap News Agency, May 31).

Pyongyang declared itself a nuclear power in the wake of its May 2009 underground nuclear blast, the Chosun Ilbo reported. That status is formally only acknowledged for NPT states China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper has cited the nation's nuclear power status in over 100 pieces published following the death of former leader Kim Jong Il in December. He was succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.

"The revision was the first change to the constitution since the second nuclear test in 2009 and Kim Jong il's death late last year, and it must have been natural for the regime to use the expression 'nuclear power,'" one intelligence source told the South Korean newspaper.

The constitutional amendment is meant to promote North Korea's possession of atomic arms and their use as a means of leverage in negotiations, according to the official (Chosun Ilbo, May 31).

"This makes it clear that the North has little intention of giving up nuclear programs under any circumstances," Agence France-Presse quoted Cheon Sung-whun of the Korea Institute for National Unification as saying. "If there is a demand at the negotiation table to give up nuclear weapons, the North Koreans would say it would be a breach of the constitution," Cheon added.

The constitutional update "is certainly bad news for participants in the six-party talks," said Kim Keun-sik of Kyungnam University. "It will make it harder to persuade the North to give up nuclear weapons through diplomacy."

Still, "The North has been touting its nuclear status as one of the key achievements accredited to the late leader and the new constitution factors this in," Kim noted. "This can hardly be interpreted as a message that it will stick to its nuclear weapons no matter what" (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, May 31).

May 31, 2012

South Korea on Thursday rejected North Korea's effort to declare itself a nuclear-armed nation through a constitutional amendment, the Yonhap News Agency reported.