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N. Korea unlikely to possess nuclear weapons: military chief

All Headlines 17:00 October 08, 2008

By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, Oct. 8 (Yonhap) -- North Korea may be working to develop a light-weight nuclear warhead that can be loaded onto a missile, but it is not clear whether the communist nation actually possesses warheads or has actually begun their development, the chairman of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Wednesday.

Gen. Kim Tae-young noted the North is believed to have about 40 kilograms of plutonium, enough to make six or seven nuclear weapons, but said it was not certain whether Pyongyang has already used up its plutonium stockpile to produce weapons.

Kim's remarks came in a response to a question during a parliamentary audit of the JCS.

The JCS chairman answered that the North may well have the ability to launch a program to develop nuclear warheads, but reiterated nothing was known for certain.

"Because we have seen North Korea engaged in experiments to manufacture nuclear devices and conduct high explosive tests, we believe they have the ability to initiate such a program," Kim said, apparently referring to North Korea's first-ever detonation of a nuclear device in October 2006.

Kim could not say definitively whether North Korea currently possesses nuclear weapons, but his remarks were consistent with many nuclear experts who say the North will have wasted its plutonium if it has already produced nuclear weapons without fully-proven nuclear technology. Those experts believe the 2006 nuclear test by North Korea was only a partial success at best, if not a complete failure.

"As I said earlier, it is certain that North Korea possess plutonium. It is certain the North has enough plutonium to make six to seven nuclear weapons, but it is not clear whether it has produced nuclear weapons," Kim later said when again asked if North Korea currently possesses nuclear arms.

"Because (the 2006 test) was not a complete test and only yielded partial success, it is not clear whether the North has weaponized its plutonium," he added.


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