North Korea boasts of mighty nuclear boost
North Korea sought to exploit international divisions over its nuclear programme by declaring yesterday that it was operating "thousands" of machines that manufacture nuclear material.
Kim Jong-il's hardline regime bragged that it was running thousands of hi-tech uranium enrichment centrifuges as diplomats struggled to defuse the crisis on the Korean peninsula.
Pyongyang has built a sophisticated new facility, which it unveiled to a shocked US scientist three weeks ago, despite being under UN sanctions.
The official media announcement that the facility was functioning came a week after North Korea shelled a South Korean village, killing four people and raising tensions in the region to their highest level in a decade.
Although ostensibly for civilian purposes, US analysts say the light water reactor programme could also be used to manufacture weapons-grade uranium for use in a bomb to go with Pyongyang's existing plutonium-based devices.
The North's statement over its emerging nuclear capabilities came as the US and South Korean navies staged a third day of war games south of the disputed maritime border.
The US show of force, aimed at deterring Pyongyang from further aggressions, has been opposed by China, which called again yesterday for a return to the Six-Party nuclear disarmament talks.
However, the Chinese proposals have been met with a cool reaction from the US and its allies, South Korea and Japan, who say they are determined not to reward Pyongyang's belligerence and defiance of UN sanctions with a further round of talks.
Nerves in Washington were put on edge over North Korea after a US intelligence assessment found that Iran had received advanced missiles from Pyongyang, capable of targeting Western European capitals.
If true, the armaments would give the Islamic Republic's arsenal a significantly farther reach than previously disclosed.
The suspected shipment could also give Iran an important boost toward joining the powerful group of nations with intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to defence experts.
The US suspicions carry still another jolt: reinforcing international fears about the possibility of closer nuclear co-operation in the future between Iran and North Korean engineers, who have already staged atomic tests.
US officials presented the claim in a meeting with top Russian security officials in late 2009 but did not offer conclusive evidence of the transfer of at least 19 so-called BM-25 missiles, according to a confidential February 24 memo.
It also noted that "Russia does not think the BM-25 exists" and the memo questioned why there had been no Iranian tests of the missile, believed to be based on a Russian design that could be fitted with nuclear warheads.
Still, the US-Russia meeting found ample common ground over concerns surrounding North Korea and Iran in possible nuclear expertise. (© Daily Telegraph, London)