Tuesday, December 24, 2002

London Free Press: N. Korea urges peace agreement

North Korea said yesterday the "nuclear issue" could be settled if Washington signs a non-aggression treaty with it.

North Korea repeatedly has demanded such a treaty, but U.S. officials say it first must take steps to abandon nuclear development before talks can occur. The dispute resembles a 1994 nuclear crisis that some (how about Clinton) say nearly led to war.

Pyongyang's speedy moves to reactivate nuclear facilities frozen under a 1994 deal with Washington have startled some in the Bush administration.

"North Korea is trying to create a situation where the United States must come to the table," said Paik Hak-soon, an expert at the Sejong Institute, an independent research centre in Seoul.

Paik speculated that North Korea was eager to negotiate now, fearing U.S. success in a war against Iraq would embolden Washington to increase pressure on the North about its weapons of mass destruction.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said yesterday Pyongyang had unsealed a storage chamber holding 8,000 irradiated fuel rods. Security analysts say plutonium in the rods could yield four or five nuclear weapons within months, and North Korea probably made one or two such weapons in the 1990s.

I could not convince people at a party Saturday that experts believe that North Korea already has 1-4 nuclear devices.

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