U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Japan, China, and South Korea have agreed to press North Korea to resume talks on its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea has been pursuing a nuclear weapons capability for years in violation of several disarmament agreements. It has been a longstanding intelligence community assessment that North Korea has produced one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons from plutonium reprocessed prior to the freeze under the 1994 Agreed Framework. In addition, North Korea claims to have reprocessed plutonium from the eight-thousand spent fuel rods sealed and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency at Yongbyon prior to North Korea's expulsion of I-A-E-A inspectors in December 2002. Enough plutonium for several more nuclear weapons could be produced from those fuel rods.
Since August 2003, the nuclear issue has been discussed in talks with the U.S., China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and North Korea. Secretary of State Powell has stressed the importance of restarting the talks as soon as possible. The goal, he says, is to help the people of impoverished North Korea have a better life:
"We don't intend to attack North Korea. We have no hostile intent. And, in fact, it is this nuclear issue that is keeping the international community from assisting North Korea. So, we would like to see the talks get underway again as quickly as possible. We hope that in the very near future the North Koreans will see that it is in their interests to have the talks start again."
The U.S. has said it is willing to accept a multilateral guarantee of North Korea's security. Parties to the talks have also indicated that they would provide assistance to North Korea. But such a guarantee and assistance could be given only if North Korea dismantles its nuclear weapons program. "There are benefits waiting for North Korea," said Secretary of State Powell, "if it makes the right strategic choice."