North Korea Admits to Developing Nuclear Weapons Program
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Thursday that the Bush administration would seek a “peaceful solution” to the development, adding that North Korea represents “different regions, different circumstances” than the threat posed by Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction.
“This is a serious violation of the Agreed Framework and the Nonproliferation Treaty,” McClellan told reporters. “The president believes this is troubling, sobering news.”
The admission by the communist North Korean government comes as the mysterious and isolated government began reaching out to repair relations with key Asian neighbors such as South Korea and Japan in the face of food shortages and major economic difficulties.
Yim Sung-joon, a senior aide to South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, told reporters Thursday that Kim would discuss the issue with President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum next week in Mexico.
“The president views this as a grave matter and it is his position that it is unacceptable under any circumstances for North Korea to develop nuclear weapons, ” Yim said.
But Yim also added that the North Korean confession may open the door for diplomatic talks on the matter, saying “the government is paying close attention to this frank confirmation of nuclear suspicions…we regard it as a sign North Korea is willing to resolve this problem through dialogue.”
The two Koreas are scheduled to engage in ministerial talks on Oct. 19 and South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a statement that it would raise the nuclear question during the meeting. Japan also said it would move forward with planned talks with North Korea beginning Oct. 29.
“We want to ask North Korea to deal with this sincerely and get rid of the nuclear suspicions,” Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi told reporters.
According to the State Department, U.S. special envoy James Kelly confronted his North Korean counterparts with information about “a program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons” during an early October diplomatic visit to the capital city of Pyongyang.
“North Korean officials acknowledged that they have such a program,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said of the meeting.
According to Boucher, North Korean officials said they considered the Agreed Framework of a 1994 non-proliferation pact that sought to stabilize the Korean peninsula to be nullified. Under the terms of the agreement, which North Korea signed with former President Bill Clinton, the country promised to freeze any nuclear arms development in exchange for much-needed energy reactors.
The official U.S. visit to Pyongyang in October was the first since President Bush labeled North Korea part of an “axis of evil” along with Iran and Iraq. The announcement represents an unanticipated foreign policy development for the U.S. as it seeks to confront Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over his suspected arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
Congressional leaders expressed concern about the North Korean development Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said North Korea must commit to the destruction of their nuclear weapons program.
“Two things have to be done immediately. First, they have to open up their country to allow inspections to examine the facilities. And second, they have to agree to destroy whatever weapons of mass destruction they have. That has to be a commitment,” the Associated Press quoted Daschle as saying.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R- Miss.) said the North Korea situation is “matter of concern. But clearly, the one we have to deal with immediately is Iraq.”
Senior U.S. officials traveled to China Thursday, the first stop in a diplomatic trip that will take them to South Korea and Japan for talks on the issue.