The Washington Post

Burma pursued nuclear weapons with North Korea, U.S. senator says

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee received information roughly five years ago that the Burmese government intended to develop nuclear weapons with the help of North Korea, according to Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.).

The committee at the time relayed the details to U.S. officials but did not release the information publicly, according to Keith Luse, a committee staff member.

Lugar’s statement, to be released Friday, comes ahead of a trip to Burma by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will be the first of her rank to travel to the isolated and authoritarian country in half a century.

“With the upcoming visit, Senator Lugar wanted to throw a spotlight on this issue and make sure it’s on the table in our talks with the Burmese government,” Luse said. Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Burmese officials have denied nuclear ambitions and told Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during a visit in June that their country was too poor to pursue a nuclear arms program.

But for years, U.S. officials have kept close watch over the relationship between North Korea and Burma — two of the world’s most heavily sanctioned governments and both accused of human rights abuses.

In recent years, the U.S. Navy has turned away North Korean ships suspected of carrying weapons to Burma, also known as Myanmar. Defectors have emerged from Burma with allegations that the country is pursuing nuclear technology. And diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last year described suspicions among U.S. officials of clandestine cooperation between the two isolated countries and indications that hundreds of North Koreans were at one point working at a covert military site in the Burmese jungle.

“The sincerity with which a wide range of reforms has been promised by the Burmese government must be judged by whether the words are followed by actions,” Lugar said in his statement. “An early goal of the tentative U.S. re-engagement with Burma should be full disclosure of the extent and intent of the developing Burmese nuclear program.”

Clinton leaves for Asia on Monday and will first stop in South Korea to take part in talks on international aid before flying to Burma.

William Wan is the Post's roving national correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He previously served as the paper’s religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent and for three years as the Post’s China correspondent in Beijing.

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