Sun, Jan 18, 2009 - Page 1 News List

North talks tough on disarmament, US researcher says

AP , BEIJING

North Korea has hardened its stance on disarmament, saying it has “weaponized” plutonium into warheads, but hopes for better ties with US president-elect Barack Obama, a US researcher who visited the North said yesterday.

Officials say the weapons cannot be inspected and Pyongyang might keep them even if it normalizes relations with Washington, said Selig Harrison, director of the Washington-based Center for International Policy's Asia program.

Harrison said he met this week with the North's nuclear envoy, Ri Gun, and other officials.

The officials said that “North Korea is now a nuclear weapons state and will not commit itself now on when it will give it up as a result of denuclearization negotiations,” Harrison told reporters in Beijing.

He quoted Ri as saying: “We are not in a position to say when we will abandon nuclear weapons.”

Harrison said the North's “much, much harder line” could be a result of the rise of military hard-liners after leader Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke.

The US researcher said officials denied reports that Kim was treated for a stroke.

However, he said that based on information from his own sources in Pyongyang, he believed Kim suffered such an ailment but has recovered, though he is not at work full time.

“He has recovered and he is now making what is described to me as ‘key decisions' but is not dealing on a day-to-day basis with detailed issues as he had done before,” Harrison said.

North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun and others said the North wants better relations with Obama's incoming government, Harrison said.

He said they wanted Obama to see that the North receives promised energy aid and help to revive North Korean agriculture.

He said the North wanted its symphony orchestra invited to perform in the US following a Pyongyang concert last March by the New York Philharmonic.

Pyongyang has made normalizing ties with Washington a priority, but the US says it must disarm first. The two governments have never had formal relations.

“All of those I met said the North has already weaponized the 30.8kg of plutonium listed in its formal declaration and that the weapons cannot be inspected,” Harrison said.

He said when he asked what “weaponized” meant, “the answer I got was, 'It means warheads.'”

Harrison has visited the North 11 times since 1972.

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