North Korea claims to have completed reprocessing some eight-thousand spent nuclear fuel rods into enough plutonium to make up to six nuclear weapons. And it is threatening to begin producing those weapons very soon. If true, these claims and threats constitute gross violations of North Korea’s commitments under the 1994 Agreed Framework, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the North-South Joint Denuclearization Agreement. Under those agreements, North Korea promised not to develop nuclear weapons.
In October 2002, North Korea first admitted that it had a covert program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. In December, it expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. In February, it restarted a nuclear reactor at its Yongbyon facility, beginning the process necessary for nuclear weapons production. At the same time, North Korea stepped up its threats and provocations, firing a missile into the Sea of Japan on the day South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-Hyun, took office.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says North Korea's dangerous and erratic behavior has only strengthened the position of the United States and its allies:
"North Korea has made a variety of claims of reprocessing in the past. We've said repeatedly that any attempt by them to reprocess, to recover plutonium, to make more progress on the way to nuclear weapons would be a matter of deep concern to us, and as well to others in the region."
North Korea's threats and violations of its commitments are part of a long standing pattern of intimidation intended to win concessions and aid for its impoverished Communist regime. White House press spokesman Scott McClellan says it won't work:
"We insist on an irreversible end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program. That is why we are addressing this in a multilateral way. What we seek is a diplomatic solution. But what we won't do is let North Korea blackmail us."
Threatening war will not solve North Korea's desperate internal crisis. It's time North Korea's rulers recognized the determination of the U.S. and its allies to prevent North Korea from arming itself with nuclear weapons.