Wednesday, September 3, 2008

North Korea restarts nuclear programme

North Korea has made an audacious attempt to push the United States into making more diplomatic concessions by starting to reassemble its Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

Under an agreement struck last year, the Stalinist state agreed to take apart elements of its nuclear programme in return for an end to sanctions and economic aid.

It also hoped to be removed from the United States' list of countries supporting terrorism - which would open it up to greater political and economic benefits.

However, this was contingent on several important conditions that have not yet been met and Washington remains suspicious about North Korea's ultimate intentions.

The country, ruled by Kim Jong-il, has consistently prevaricated when asked to reveal all the details of its nuclear programme.
Although scientists demolished a cooling tower at Yongbyon in June, they have not yet stripped it of vital rods, meaning the facility could potentially be rebuilt within a year.

They have also failed fully to disclose information on their uranium enrichment facilities and history of nuclear proliferation.
However, analysts believe the secretive state may not have given up the goal of developing a nuclear arsenal - and is simply using the process of talks to buy time.

"While its decision to reassemble Yongbyon is probably an attempt to pressure the US into taking it off the terror list, it might have another motive," said Christian Le Miere, a senior Asia analyst at Jane's Country Risk.

"It could also be a sign that the denuclearisation process is just a facade, while it angles for a security guarantee or gains a nuclear deterrent."

North Korea is believed to have already assembled enough plutonium to develop five-10 atomic warheads and there is no agreement yet on whether it should surrender this stockpile.

Ultimately, Pyongyang aims to end a widespread economic malaise that has left the country teetering on the brink of a second devastating famine within a decade.

Recent events have made North Korea's economic situation worse - giving it more reason to try to lift sanctions.

In July, a South Korean tourist was shot dead at the border - severely damaging the tourism industry and forcing Pyongyang to offer easier visas to Chinese tourists instead.

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