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South Korea Sought to Purchase Spent Fuel Rods From North, Official Confirms
South Korea in 2009 unsuccessfully sought to purchase spent nuclear fuel rods from North Korea in a bid to stop its longtime rival's nuclear weapons development, an anonymous presidential official on Monday told the Korea JoongAng Daily (see GSN, April 3).
The source from the office of President Lee Myung-bak verified an account in former Bush administration North Korea adviser Victor Cha's new book that Seoul in January 2009 sent its No. 2 nuclear negotiator to Pyongyang in a bid to acquire 8,000 used nuclear rods from the Stalinist regime.
The intent was to keep North Korea from reprocessing the nuclear material to weapon-grade levels, according to Cha's book, "The Impossible State." Pyongyang demanded an enormous amount of money for the fuel rods and Seoul walked away from the possible deal, Cha wrote.
"Chun Young-woo, then the chief of the six-party nuclear talks, proposed to the North in 2008 that South Korea was willing to buy the spent fuel rods if they were sold at the international market price," the anonymous Lee official said. "But the North demanded an unreasonably high price."
North Korea at the time was still participating in six-nation talks aimed at shuttering its nuclear program. In the wake of U.N. Security Council condemnation of an apparent April 2009 long-range missile test, Pyongyang declared the negotiations "dead" and in May of that year detonated its second atomic test device.
Efforts to resume the nuclear negotiations have been unsuccessful, with the most recent obstacle being the North's plan for another rocket launch later this month (see related GSN story, today; Ko Jung-ae, Korea JoongAng Daily, April 5).
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