Tuesday 23 July 2019

Kim Jong Un bio-weapon threat grows as White House announces second summit

Warnings of increased risk as White House announces second summit

Summit: US President Donald Trump meets with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un in June last year. Photo: Getty Images
Summit: US President Donald Trump meets with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un in June last year. Photo: Getty Images

Julian Ryall, Tokyo

North Korea's biological weapons pose a more serious military threat than its nuclear programme, according to defence analysts, while intelligence assessments have identified a sharp increase in internet searches originating in North Korea for "advanced gene and germ research".

A study conducted by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in the US in December concluded that North Korea is accessing the work of foreign researchers to develop its existing biotechnology skills and construct the equipment to produce more biological weapons, the 'New York Times' reported.

The suggestion is that while the administration of US President Donald Trump is pushing Pyongyang hard on its nuclear weapons and the associated intercontinental ballistic missile programme, it is making no demands that North Korea comes clean on its suspected stockpiles of thousands of tonnes of biological agents .

The 'New York Times' quoted Andrew Weber, a Pentagon official in charge of nuclear chemical and biological defence programmes under former president Barack Obama, as saying: "North Korea is far more likely to use biological weapons than nuclear ones. The programme is advanced, underestimated and highly lethal."

Analysts claim the threat of a "devastating germ counter-attack" is designed to deter the North's enemies, although biological agents can also be used as offensive weapons.

Among the most potentially lethal agent in the North's biological armoury is likely to be smallpox, which kills one-third of the people who contract the disease, while the regime also has the ability to manufacture anthrax. Chemical agents that have been weaponised are believed to include hydrogen cyanide, phosgene, sarin, tabun and chlorine.

News of the study came as the White House yesterday announced that President Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to try to broker a deal to coax the North to give up its nuclear programme.

In its latest assessment of Pyongyang's military capabilities, the South Korean Ministry of National Defence stated in its defence white paper that the North is believed to have produced and stockpiled as much as 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons and has the ability to produce a further 2,000 tonnes a year.

The North has made no secret of its bio-weapon programme, with state media in 2015 showing images of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, touring a biological plant.

Amplyfi, a Cardiff-based artificial intelligence company, last year carried out a search of the "deep web" in search of North Korean interest in biological weapons.

The investigation identified hundreds of thousands of hits, the 'Washington Post' reported, with computer users in North Korea particularly interested.

A number of North Korean defectors, including former members of the military, have claimed during questioning that the North tests biological and chemical weapons on citizens who have been sentenced to death.

On Thursday a North Korean envoy arrived in Washington for talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aimed a laying the groundwork for a second US-North Korea summit.

The envoy arrived on the same day Mr Trump unveiled a revamped US missile defence strategy that singled out North Korea as an ongoing and "extraordinary threat", seven months after he declared after his first summit with Mr Kim that the North Korean threat had been eliminated.

The North Korean visit could yield an announcement of plans for another summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

© Daily Telegraph London

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