A U.S. expert says North Korea has "weaponized" its plutonium, producing four to five warheads. Pyongyang now wishes to be treated as a nuclear weapon state.
Selig Harrison, an independent expert who met with officials this week in Pyongyang, says North Korea has weaponized about 31 kilograms of plutonium.
Harrison told reporters in Beijing Saturday North Korea may hold four or five nuclear bombs, depending on the grade of plutonium and specific weapons design. Yet none of the North Korean officials would explicitly acknowledge the details of the weapons. Harrison said they told him it was a "military matter" they could not discuss. He said the government refuses to let the weapons be inspected.
Harrison is director of the Washington-based Center for International Policy's Asia program. His North Korea trip began on January 12 and included a lengthy session with Li Gun, director general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's United States division.
Harrison says Li told him the government is prepared to discuss nuclear disarmament when and if relations with North Korea are fully normalized. But he would not commit to any timeline.
"Their slogan is "denuclearization through normalization, not normalization through denuclearization," said Harrison. "They say if you can deal with Russia and China, and other countries, India, as nuclear powers, why can't you deal with us?"
Harrison said North Korea hopes to foster better relations with the United States under President-elect Barack Obama. He said director general Li admits North Korea would negotiate a missile limitation agreement.
"Li Gun said, 'if we can have nuclear negotiations, why not missile negotiations? We can consider that when the environment is favorable.' So I was told that this can be considered, that the concept of mutual confidence that would be represented by a missile agreement is acceptable," said Harrison.
The Bush administration's efforts late last year to negotiate a disarmament process with North Korea ended in deadlock.