Published : 2010-03-30 15:15
Updated : 2010-03-30 15:15
South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities have begun surveillance on 11 North Korean sites for a possible third nuclear test, news reports here said yesterday.
"(We) have started running a surveillance network based on information that Pyongyang may conduct a third nuclear test in protest of the United Nations Security Council`s sanctions," a local daily quoted an unnamed South Korean intelligence source as saying.
The candidate sites for a third nuclear test lie mostly in the northern part of the reclusive state -- especially in the rocky areas of Hamgyeong and Pyeongan Provinces.
One of them is Geumchang-ri of North Pyeongan Province, previously suspected by U.S. intelligence as the location of a possible nuclear facility in 1998, according to the vernacular daily.
Washington had sent a fact-finding team to Geumchang-ri in exchange for providing 600,000 tons of rice to North Korea, but failed to find any proof of nuclear activities there.
There are some 8,200 underground military facilities across North Korea, according to the South`s Defense Ministry.
Yesterday`s report on a possible third nuclear test has not yet been confirmed by any government official.
North Korea`s declaration of uranium enrichment on Saturday struck many as deja vu of a decade-long game of "truth or dare" as to whether the Stalinist state is really capable of producing nuclear weapons soon.
"The process of uranium enrichment will be commenced," the North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency on Saturday.
North Korea "would weaponize all plutonium and we`ve processed more than one-third of our spent nuclear fuel rods," he said.
The North, which drew condemnation around the world after its second nuclear test on May 25, said it has had "enough success" in developing uranium enrichment technology and was experimenting.
In October 2002, then U.S. special envoy James Kelly raised suspicions during his visit to Pyongyang that North Korea planned to run a highly-enriched uranium program, a second track to developing nuclear bombs on top of reprocessing fuel rods for plutonium.
According to diplomatic sources here, North Korean vice foreign minister Kang Sok-ju asked Kelly, "what is wrong with us having an HEU plan?"
"We have the right to proceed with our HEU plan and we plan to produce even stronger weapons," Kang was quoted as saying by sources.
A day before Kelly`s meeting with Kang, the U.S. delegation had pointed out to North Korean foreign minister Kim Kye-kwan that Pyongyang`s purported HEU program was a serious violation of the 1994 Geneva Agreement.
Kim denied Kelly`s suspicion, demanding proof, according to sources.
Apparently, Kang, who "represents the Workers` Party and the government of DPRK," decided to revert what his colleague said a day earlier.
Washington classified the results of Kelly`s visit to Pyongyang confidential for some days until it issued a statement by the State Department spokesman on Oct. 16, 2002, saying it has gathered intelligence that suggests North Korea had an HEU program and that Pyongyang acknowledged having such a program.
North Korea said in a statement by its foreign ministry spokesman nine days later, saying it was open to "resolving the (HEU program) issue through negotiations."
Apparently, it did not deny nor acknowledge the existence of a HEU program.
Nearly four months later, North Korea said through its foreign ministry spokesman on Jan. 29, 2003, that "regarding his (Kelly`s) words, there was nothing to admit and no need to deny."
On Jan. 30, then North Korean ambassador to Geneva said in a media interview that, "we make it clear that we have never acknowledged an HEU program."
The Geneva Agreement signed between North Korea and the Bill Clinton administration in 1995 lost luster during the HEU speculation in late 2002.
A six-nation discussion system was established in August 2003 instead.
North Korea has denied the existence of an HEU program over the five years of six-party talks since.
Several policymakers under former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung had raised a conspiracy theory that neoconservatives within the South exaggerated Pyongyang`s HEU-related moves as an imminent security crisis.
The obscure question mark remained until last Saturday when North Korea officially declared it would enrich uranium in protest of the UNSC Resolution 1874.
A new truth or dare has now begun over whether North Korea has accumulated enough technology to move on to HEU from low-enriched uranium, which is used to run nuclear reactors to produce energy.
By Kim So-hyun