North Korea Says It Will Start Enriching Uranium

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 14, 2009

TOKYO, June 13 -- North Korea adamantly denied for seven years that it had a program for making nuclear weapons from enriched uranium.

But on Saturday, a few hours after the U.N. Security Council slapped it with tough new sanctions for detonating a second nuclear device, the government of Kim Jong Il changed its tune, vowing that it would start enriching uranium to make more nuclear weapons.

Declaring that it would meet sanctions with "retaliation," North Korea also pledged to "weaponize" all the plutonium it could extract from used fuel rods at its Yongbyon nuclear plant, which was partially disabled last year as part of the North's agreement to win food, fuel and diplomatic concessions in return for a promise to end its nuclear program.

That agreement collapsed in April, when North Korea -- fuming about Security Council condemnation of its March launch of a long-range missile -- kicked U.N. weapons inspectors out of the country and began work to restart its plutonium factory. It tested a second bomb on May 25, and South Korean officials have said more missile launches and a third nuclear test are possible in the near future.

"It makes no difference to North Korea whether its nuclear status is recognized or not," the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang said in a statement carried by the state news agency. "It has become an absolutely impossible option for North Korea to even think about giving up its nuclear weapons."

The 15-member Security Council unanimously passed a resolution Friday that imposes broad financial, trade and military sanctions on North Korea, while also calling on states, for the first time, to seize banned weapons and technology from the North that are found aboard ships on the high seas.

North Korea seemed Saturday to have interpreted the seizure resolution as a "blockade." But at the insistence of China and Russia, the North's traditional allies, the resolution does not authorize the use of military action to enforce any seizure that a North Korean vessel might resist, nor does it restrict shipments of food or other nonmilitary goods.

"An attempted blockade of any kind by the United States and its followers will be regarded as an act of war and met with a decisive military response," North Korea said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said North Korea's "continuing provocative actions are deeply regrettable."

The bellicose language in North Korea's statement -- which describes the Security Council action as "another ugly product of American-led international pressure" -- is similar in tone to previous North Korean responses to U.N. sanctions.

But the North's announcement that it would process enriched uranium to make more weapons was an extraordinary public admission of active involvement in a program whose existence has been denied by Pyongyang since 2002, when it was first mentioned in a U.S. intelligence report.

That year, the Bush administration accused North Korea of secretly continuing with nuclear weapons development in violation of a 1994 agreement. It then canceled construction of two light-water reactors in the North that were to have been used to produce electricity for the impoverished country.

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