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On October 16, 2002, the Bush Administration announced that, in meetings earlier this month, North Korea admitted that it has a uranium enrichment program. With this announcement came very few details about this newly-disclosed program. Statements from the administration, alongside reports from the media, have allowed us to piece together some of the missing details. Still, significant information about this program remains unknown. The implications of North Korea's disclosure depend on the details of the program, ranging from its origins and level of development to the regime's willingness to close it down.

1) Is the uranium enrichment facility operating?

  • "What we have said publicly and in consultations is not that the North Koreans necessarily have nuclear weapons produced through the uranium enrichment program. What we've said is that they are seeking a production scope capability to produce weapons-grade uranium and that that effort is a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty…"
    (Press Conference with John Bolton, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, October 22, 2002)

2) What kind of facility/technology is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea pursuing?

  • "North Korea's surprise admission of a secret nuclear program was prompted by a US intelligence discovery that the isolated state was trying to acquire large amounts of high-strength aluminum, which is used in equipment to enrich uranium for a bomb, weapons experts and officials familiar with the finding said yesterday.
    ("US Followed the Aluminum," Washington Post, October 18, 2002)
    North Korea's attempts to acquire large amounts of high-strength aluminum, as well as its "sensitive trade" with Pakistan could be evidence of plans to build or the existence of a nuclear facility that employs gas centrifuges.

3) Has North Korea started enriching uranium and, if so, when and how much?

  • "'We recently learned that the North is constructing a plant that could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for two or more nuclear weapons per year when fully operational - which could be as soon as mid-decade,' the CIA said."
    ("North Korea Can Build Nukes Right Now," Washington Times, November 22, 2002)

4) How large is the facility/how much uranium can it enrich to weapons grade a year?

  • We don't know

5) Where is the facility located?

  • "The United States has indicated that the North Korean Academy of Sciences, near Pyongyang, is suspected of being one of three sites where North Korea conducted uranium-enrichment tests as part of its nuclear program, a diplomatic source said yesterday. The other two suspected sites are the Hagap region, located in the Jagang province and the city of Yeongjeo-dong in the Yanggang province, about 20 kilometers from the Chinese border, according to the source. The United States informed South Korea about the three suspected test sites several days after the U.S.-North Korean meeting in Pyongyang, the source said."
    (Korea Herald, Oct. 21, 2002).
  • "US officials have declined to reveal the location in question. Previously, speculation about enrichment plants had centered on three locations, including a suspected underground facility in Changang province known as Hagap, said Daniel Pinkson, a senior researcher at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California."
    ("US Followed the Aluminum,"Washington Post, October 18, 2002)

6) When did the plant get started/program begin?

  • "We discovered this problem. I mean, everybody thought the agreed framework froze North Korea's nuclear aspirations. It turned out that it was misdirection. While everybody was watching Yongbyon and seeing that it was frozen, the North Koreans had started moving in a new direction with respect to the enrichment of uranium. And this didn't happen just in the last year or two. It's a decision they made and a program they started four or so years ago, and we found out about it this summer. And we confronted the North Koreans with it."
    (Secretary Colin Powell, Fox News Sunday, December 29, 2002)

  • "They were motivated some four, five years ago, if not earlier, to make the political decision to move down the road of finding a second way of developing a nuclear weapon."
    (Secretary Colin Powell, NBC Meet the Press, December 29, 2002)
  • "'However, we did not obtain clear evidence indicating the North had begun constructing a centrifuge facility until recently,' the CIA said. 'We assess that North Korea embarked on the effort to develop a centrifuge-based uranium enrichment program about two years ago.'
    "Last year, procurement agents for North Korea 'began seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities,' the CIA said, noting that the North Koreans 'also obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems.'"
    ("North Korea Can Build Nukes Right Now," By Bill Gertz, Washington Times, November 22, 2002)

  • "The North Korean side attempted to blame this situation on recent U.S. policy, but I pointed out that this was inconsistent with information we had that their uranium enrichment program is already several years old."
    (Press Conference with James Kelly, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, October 19, 2002)
  • Question: You said that North Korea for several years has been trying to enrich uranium. Is it your assessment that they are attempting to do it or that they have succeeded?

    : It is our assessment that they had a program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, and that is as far as I can go onto the details.

    : You can't tell us if you think the actually have some enriched uranium?

    : I'd say they had a program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

    : And now you're using the past tense. "Had a program."

    : They have had, and have, and had.
    (Daily Press Briefing, Richard Boucher, US Department of State, October 17, 2002)

7) Where did they get the technology from?

  • "U.S. intelligence officials told The Times that North Korea earlier this month received a shipment of 20 tons of a specialty chemical known as tributyl phosphate, or TBP, from China.
    The chemical has both commercial and military applications and U.S. intelligence officials believe the TBP will be used to extract material for nuclear bombs from North Korea's stockpile of spent nuclear-reactor fuel...The TBP also can be used in the process of creating fuel for uranium-based nuclear weapons, according to arms specialists."
    ("Panel to Probe China's Nuclear-Related Sales to North Korea," Washington Times, December 20, 2002)
  • "U.S. intelligence agencies, however, believe North Korea will use the TBP for its plutonium-based nuclear-weapons program, based on sensitive intelligence information, the officials said. The chemical is used in a process known as plutonium-uranium extraction, or purex, which produces plutonium from spent reactor fuel. North Korea announced last week that it planned to restart its plutonium reactors at Yongbyon. 'The fact that North Korea is importing tributyl phosphate right now is rather ominous,'said Gary Milhollin, director of the private Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. 'It's evidence that North Korea plans to extract more plutonium.'The chemical also can be used to prepare uranium for the weapons process, Mr. Milhollin said in an interview."
    ("China Ships North Korea Ingredient for Nuclear Arms," Washington Times, December 17, 2002)

  • "American intelligence officials have concluded that Pakistan, a vital ally since last year's terrorist attacks, was a major supplier of critical equipment for North Korea's newly revealed clandestine nuclear weapons program, current and former senior American officials said today.

    The equipment, which may include gas centrifuges used to create weapons-grade uranium, appears to have been part of a barter deal beginning in the late 1990's in which North Korea supplied Pakistan with missiles it could use to counter India's nuclear arsenal, the officials said."
    ("US Says Pakistan Gave Technology to North Korea," New York Times, October 18, 2002)
  • "It is not known what progress North Korea has made toward enriching uranium, or which other countries or companies have helped its efforts to obtain the necessary technology, but the experts and officials say Pakistan may have played a role. 'Centrifuges are hard to build, and North Korea could not have done it without outside help,' said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington."
    ("US Followed the Aluminum," Washington Post, October 18, 2002)
  • "'Pakistan would be a possibility because it used gas centrifuges, and its own nuclear weapons initially used enriched uranium, said Robert Einhorn, former assistance secretary of state for non-proliferation and now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. 'Also, North Korea and Pakistan have been known to engage in sensitive trade, including Pakistan's purchase of Nodong missiles from North Korea,' Einhorn said. 'US officials were concerned at the time about what the quid pro quo might be.'"
    ("US Followed the Aluminum," Washington Post, October 18, 2002)

8) How did the US find out about it?

  • "North Korea's surprise admission of a secret nuclear program was prompted by a US intelligence discovery that the isolated state was trying to acquire large amounts of high-strength aluminum, which is used in equipment to enrich uranium for a bomb, weapons experts and officials familiar with the finding said yesterday.The attempted acquisition of the aluminum helped US analysts conclude that North Korea was constructing a facility to enrich uranium… In addition to tracking the aluminum, US intelligence officials received reports of significant construction activity that appeared related to a uranium-enrichment facility, knowledgeable sources said."
    ("US Followed the Aluminum," Washington Post, October 18, 2002)

9) Are the North Korea's willing to close it down and, if so, for what in return?

  • "In another indication of the new dynamic in the region, North Korea today endorsed the outline of the compromise being discussed in the South Korean capital. "There is no reason why the U.S. should not accept the proposal, the best way for a peaceful solution," the government said in a statement released by North Korea's state-run news agency, KCNA."
    ("South Korea Readies Plan to End Standoff with North," Washington Post, January 5, 2003)

  • "Today North Korea again called for a nonaggression treaty with the United States, saying it was the only way to prevent war on the Korean Peninsula."
    ("Japan Says Nuclear Effort in North Korea Merits Hard Line," New York Times, December 17, 2002)

  • "But in the latest war of words in the escalating crisis, North Korea's official media echoed fears of a U.S. invasion. 'Now the situation of the Korean Peninsula is on the verge of war,' the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said. 'The only way to preventing a catastrophic crisis of a war ... is to conclude a non-aggression treaty between North Korea and the U.S. at an early date,' the paper said.
    ("North Korea: Only Treaty Will Prevent War," CNN News, December 16, 2002)

  • "The conditions North Korea offered included a guarantee of no U.S. pre-emptive attack, recognition of the North Korean government and the signing of a U.S.-North Korean peace treaty, Kelly said. The third condition was the signing of a peace treaty with North Korea, a long-held goal of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung, and his son, the current leader, Kim Jong Il."
    ("For North Korea, US is Violator of Accords," Washington Post, October 21, 2002)
  • "They did not make any demands as they were characterized, but they did suggest, after this harsh and personally to me surprising admission, suggest that there were measures that might be taken that were generally along those lines. But they indicated that when all of these good things would be done, then maybe we might begin to talk about their covert uranium enrichment program, and that, in my view, got it upside down."
    (Press Conference with James Kelly, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs October 19, 2002)

10) Does North Korea already have a nuclear weapon?

  • "But, despite administration claims, it is not so clear-cut that North Korea is already a nuclear weapons power. In early 1993, the CIA began circulating an analysis that North Korea may have obtained enough fissile material to produce one or two bombs. But, even today, that analysis is the subject of dispute, with some experts dismissing it as little more than a 'back of the envelope' calculation. It is based largely on the amount of plutonium that would be needed for a nuclear weapon and how much North Korea is estimated to have diverted from its nuclear facilities.

    'There are people who don't agree with that,'said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a research group. He said the possibility was 50-50, but that he believes the odds that North Korea has developed its nuclear weapons capability have increased over time.

    The Clinton administration officially acknowledged the CIA analysis in 1997. But James B. Steinberg, Clinton's deputy national security adviser and now vice president at the Brookings Institution, said it has not been confirmed that North Korea took the plutonium and produced two weapons. Asserting that North Korea already has nuclear weapons, and so it is less alarming if it produces more, 'is a pretty slippery-slope argument,' he said."
    ("No Support for Strikes Against North Korea," Washington Post, January 2, 2003)

  • "The debate over what to do about North Korea, an exceptionally difficult question, has been further complicated by distorted descriptions of the problem by both the Bush administration and its critics. Over the weekend Secretary of State Colin L. Powell declared that North Korea has been known to have two nuclear weapons since the early 1990s. But the finding of U.S. intelligence during the Clinton administration was not that Pyongyang built those warheads -- only that it probably could have. Barring new and unreported intelligence, the weapons themselves have never been confirmed -- and that distinction is important. If, as Mr. Powell suggested, North Korea is to be considered an existing nuclear power, then its current steps toward producing further material for bombs are not necessarily so critical; after all, as Mr. Powell said, "what are they going to do with another two or three nuclear weapons when they're starving, when they have no energy, when they have no economy that is functioning?" Such logic is convenient to the administration's strategy of playing down the North Korean threat and postponing an active response to it. But if it's not certain that this murderous and immoral regime already has a bomb, then it is important to do whatever can be done now to stop what increasingly looks like a drive by dictator Kim Jong Il to produce an arsenal as quickly as possible. Perhaps there is no way to stop him; but the administration would be wrong to prematurely concede North Korea's standing as a nuclear power."
    ("Terms for Pyongyang," Washington Post, December 31, 2002)

  • "This is a country that is in desperate condition. What are they going to do with another two or three nuclear weapons when they are starving, when they have no energy, when they have no economy that is functioning? We now believe they have a couple of nuclear weapons, and had them for years."
    (Secretary Colin Powell, NBC Meet the Press, December 29, 2002)

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