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Documents Detail North Korea's Decades-long Effort to Obtain Nuclear Weapons


The Woodrow Wilson International Center is releasing English translations of former Cold War archives that, scholars say, show that North Korea has wanted nuclear weapons for decades.

The coordinator of the Wilson Center's Korea Initiative project, Kathryn Weathersby, says there is ample evidence that North Korea has tried for decades to obtain nuclear weapons. "In the 1970s, we have a number of documents here about North Korea's attempts to acquire nuclear technology from the Soviets, from the East Germans, from the Chinese,” she said. “Their persistent attempts to do that in the 1970s and early 1980s, and their frustration at their inability to succeed. You see over and over and over, the Soviets attempting to avoid giving them such technology."

The Korea Initiative is part of the center's Cold War International History Project, which has been translating documents obtained from archives in former Soviet bloc countries and China. The batch of documents released Tuesday came from Hungary and the former Soviet Union.

Ms. Weathersby pointed to a dearth of current intelligence on North Korea, saying she cannot say definitively whether Pyongyang has nuclear weapons. But she added that the documents she has seen give a good historical perspective on North Korea's pre-occupation with its own security and desire to have such weapons. "This is then the background - the sense of vulnerability, the sense of a need to protect themselves, the sense of an inability to rely on anyone else for their own protection," she added.

Wilson Center public policy scholar James Goodby says he believes Pyongyang's concerns for its own security need to be taken into consideration if the stalled six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis are to succeed. Ambassador Goodby, a former senior U.S. diplomat who specialized in non-proliferation issues, said there are things he believes the United States can offer North Korea in return for Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear programs.

One major issue is concluding a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953. "I don't know what it would take to persuade Kim Jong-Il, but as I said, the likelihood is that he would be more impressed that something that led, for example, to a peace treaty as opposed to the current armistice agreement, impressed by something that would create opportunities for him to continue with the economic reforms that he has already begun in a rather desultory way," said Mr. Goodby.

At the same time, Ambassador Goodby said if North Korea proves it does have nuclear weapons by conducting a test, the situation would change dramatically. He says the five other members of the six-party talks - the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia - should get together to discuss a tough and coordinated response.

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