The United States said Monday that North Korea will derive no benefit from world powers for the apparent uranium enrichment program it revealed to an American scientist earlier this month. The Obama administration is consulting with parties to the stalled North Korea nuclear talks over the development.
Officials here say U.S. concern about North Korean uranium enrichment dates back years, and that Pyongyang will not be able to use what appears to be an advanced enrichment plant to extract new international concessions.
American nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker said late last week that on a visit to North Korea this month, he was "stunned" to be shown an enrichment facility that he was told had more than 1,000 centrifuges and was fully operational.
The development prompted the Obama administration to send North Korea envoy Stephen Bosworth to Asia on an urgent round of consultations.
But State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley called the revelation to Hecker a "publicity stunt," saying there was no crisis in efforts to persuade North Korea to disarm, and that Pyongyang will not be able turn the gambit into negotiating capital.
"This reinforces our long-standing concern about North Korea's uranium enrichment activities," said P.J. Crowley. "We will not be drawn into rewarding North Korea for bad behavior. They frequently anticipate doing something outrageous or provocative and forcing us to jump through hoops as a result. We're not going to buy into this cycle."
North Korea agreed in principle in 2005 to give up its nuclear program in return for economic and political benefits from world powers. But the Chinese-sponsored six-party negotiations have been stalled for two years.
Pyongyang has a small arsenal of nuclear weapons derived from plutonium from its Yongbyon reactor complex.
A uranium enrichment program could allow North Korea to build additional bombs. But Crowley said the "brief glimpse" of the facility given to Hecker does not necessarily mean that Pyongyang has mastered the technology.
"We're going to take our time, work through the information that's available to us," he said. "Certainly this doesn't surprise us. Going back many years, to 2002 and beyond that, we've had strong suspicions of a clandestine enrichment capability, or North Korea's pursuit of that capability. We will review the implications of this information, and then chart a way forward with our partners."
Under a joint framework accord with the United States, North Korea pledged in 1994 to freeze its nuclear program in return for two civilian nuclear power plants.
But the United States scuttled the deal after Pyongyang officials told a visiting U.S. envoy in 2002 that they had a secret enrichment program. North Korea later disavowed the statement.
North Korean officials told scientist Siegfried Hecker that the facility they showed him this month was to provide fuel for a civilian power plant they have under construction.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior U.S. officials say they doubt Pyongyang's expressions of peaceful intent. They say their main concern is that North Korea might export weapons technology.
U.S. envoy Bosworth is expected to return to the United States on Wednesday, after consultations in Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing.