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North Korea - update - 2003-03-13

The United States says it is resuming military reconnaissance flights off the coast of North Korea. The move comes as a top U-S official claims North Korea could be just months away from producing raw materials for nuclear weapons.

The U.S. decision to resume spy flights off the coast of North Korea comes less than two weeks after North Korean fighter jets intercepted an unarmed U-S Air Force plane, similar to the one seen here. It is not clear if U.S. fighter jets will escort the reconnaissance flights.

North Korea’s aggressive military actions are among the latest concerns for Seoul and Washington. Last October, Washington said Pyongyang had admitted to enriching uranium at a nuclear facility. Wednesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly told Senate lawmakers that North Korea’s nuclear program is progressing at an alarming rate.

“The enriched uranium issue, some have assumed, is somewhere off in the fog of the distant future. It is not, Mister Chairman. It is only probably a matter of months, not years, behind the plutonium. So we really have to address this entire issue.”

A recent satellite photo showed what appeared to be a steam plume coming from the Pyonbyon nuclear reactor site, indicating it is currently in use. North Korea has announced plans to reactivate a nearby processing plant. Intelligence officials say if that happens, the North could produce bomb-grade plutonium within six months.