North Korea: Proliferating for Profit

War rhetoric has been flying since Pyongyang announced the restarting of the nuclear reactor and three key facilities frozen for eight years under an international agreement.
Washington and allies cut off oil supplies. The North Koreans went on to remove the international monitors’ seals form those facilities. This week, North Korea declared the United States was bringing the situation in the peninsula to the brink of war. The dispute can only be settled, says Pyongyang, if the United States agrees to sign a nonaggression treaty.
Thursday, December 26, South Korea showed real concern over the discovery that 400 fresh fuel rods had been moved to the five-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon which has a partially completed plutonium extraction facility. The other elements of North Korea’s nuclear program are a 200-MWt nuclear power reactor at Taechon (unfinished), laboratory-scale “hot cells” that may have been used to extract small quantities of plutonium, and two 1,000-MWt light water reactors at Kumho.
US officials say that 8,000 spent fuel rods hold enough weapons-grade plutonium to make several nuclear bombs. Earlier, another Washington source estimated North Korea as being capable of manufacturing 50-55 bombs per year, although at the moment it is believed to have no more than two.
On December 20,DEBKA-Net-Weeklyran an exclusive report on the dual rationale behind what appears to be North Korea’s nuclear blackmail.(To sign up for DNW clickHERE).
Firstly, Kim is determined to retain his independence of action in foreign and state policy. Second, by weaving his munitions industry and nuclear weapons production into Middle East and Gulf flashpoints, he gains leverage on world issues and breaks down the pressures on him by spreading his wings far from his frontiers. This makes it hard for Washington to deal with the North Korean nuclear program as a purely Asian issue.
Pyongyang has its hand in nuclear programs and missile technology transfers with several Middle Eastern countries, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Step by step, its engineers and technology have been quietly investing in the Libyan-Egyptian al Kufra nuclear center (where Iraqi nuclear scientists are also employed); its long-range missile components are assembled in Egyptian factories near Alexandria, Syria’s medium-range missile assembly plant and chemical and biological weapons laboratories near Hama in the north use North Korean components and technology and, as we reported last month, North Korea transferred nuclear manufacturing facilities, including uranium enrichment equipment, to secret Iranian sites at Natanz and Arak. These are all multibillion projects.
Any US military action in the Persian Gulf and Middle East would have to take those activities into account. In order to neutralize North Korea’s leverage in the Middle East, the United States has few options:
A. Negotiate North Korea’s disengagement from the Middle East and the Arab world. This would entail unacceptable American compromises ith regard to the scope and aims of North Korea’s nuclear program in Asia.
B. A personal appeal by President George W. Bush to the new Chinese president, Hu Jintao, and Russian president Vladimir Putin, asking them to lean hard on their North Korean neighbor to make him accommodate Washington’s demands and terminate his nuclear weapons program immediately and unconditionally.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘ssources report that Bush did exactly that when he visited Beijing and Moscow last May, when Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, was still in office. He did not mince his words, warning both leaders that their relations with Washington were on the line over this issue.
The US President was astounded when he found himself politely but effectively rebuffed.
In fact, senior US administration officials have come to believe that Moscow and Beijing have a vested interest in North Korea’s nuclear and missile export programs to the Middle East. Our sources estimate they may be clearing up to one billion dollars a year each through the contribution of components or technology to some of those transactions.
For the moment,DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘ssources in Washington report, the Bush administration is divided over whether or not to tough it out with Kim Jong-Il – though not necessarily along the same lines as the attitudes on Saddam Hussein.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, the mandarins at State and CIA Director George Tenet prefer to defuse the crisis by diplomacy and steer clear of military confrontation. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice go along with this view – less because of the inherent hazards of nuclear war than for fear it will deflect the United States from its central thrust against Iraq.
War with North Korea would also be costly – and not only in terms of manpower and lives lost. Experts put the price of US military action on the Korean Peninsula at about $100 billion – on top of the $150 billion to $200 billion cost of waging war on Iraq. It is doubtful whether the US economy could stand the strain of an outlay that large over so short a time.
The pro-diplomacy faction is challenged by section heads in the CIA, as well as US military commanders, who reject such American assurances as the one Powell issued on December 16 -that the US has no plans to attack North Korea – as letting Pyongyang believe it is getting away with blackmail. It will only harden its position, they warn. Saddam too might be encouraged to follow North Korea’s example and try his hand at military or terrorist threats
On one point, at least, the hard-line faction in Washington was soon vindicated. While US officials worked the phone, the ultimatums kept on coming. Rumsfeld responded by declaring the United States could fight on two fronts, Iraq and North Korea – a statement quickly damped by the White House.
Washington is still handling Kim with diplomatic finesse. However, eventually, the Bush administration may be forced into the narrow option of confronting North Korea alone, as is likely to happen in the case of Iraq. Its task will be complicated by having to grapple with North Korea’s nuclear initiatives and massive ballistic missile exports in two world regions: at home in Asia and in the Middle East, where Kim Jong-Il has spread his weapons of mass destruction proliferation web wide.

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