A senior South Korean official says that North Korea appears to at least have the beginnings of a uranium-based nuclear weapons program. Seoul's top negotiator in talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions also says he thinks the North is committed to dismantling its nuclear facilities. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.
Chun Yung-woo, Seoul's main envoy to the six-party nuclear talks with North Korea, said Friday that Pyongyang must explain its purchases that are consistent with a uranium-based weapons program.
But North Korea has never publicly admitted to having a highly enriched uranium, or HEU program, and until Friday, South Korea has avoided taking an explicit stand on whether it exists.
"What North Korea has been procuring for the HEU program is already well known," said Chun Yung-woo. "But we do not have full information where the program itself stands now…. Nobody seems to believe that they have an enrichment plant up and running but I cannot tell you how far North Korea's enrichment program has evolved."
U.S. officials say North Korea admitted to having an HEU program in 2002, in violation of several agreements to not seek nuclear weapons. That revelation led to three years of negotiations on Pyongyang's nuclear programs.
This month, China, Russia, Japan, the United States and South Korea agreed to provide 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to the North in exchange for a shutdown of Pyongyang's main plutonium producing facility.
Chun says there are positive indications that Pyongyang is committed to the deal reached during talks in Beijing.
"All I can say is that they are determined to go all the way to disablement in the initial stage," he said.
The South Korean diplomat says that on March 12, a working committee set up at the Beijing talks will meet to discuss how to ship fuel to North Korea.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, is to verify that the Yongbyon reactor has been disabled by mid-April. Chun says the inspectors' progress will determine how quickly North Korea gets its fuel.
"We are ready to take the lead in providing emergency energy assistance to North Korea … so once we know when the IAEA personnel will return to the [North Korean nuclear] site, we can time our shipment," he said.
A second phase of the Beijing agreement, which is to begin in April, requires North Korea to fully declare all its nuclear programs and materials.
Chun and his four negotiating partners say the most important aspect of carrying out the Beijing deal is not to miss any deadlines. He says the five nations are obligated to create an environment of trust and confidence that will allow North Korea to take further steps toward ending its nuclear programs.