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N. Korea has up to 6 nuclear weapons: Clinton

All Headlines 09:24 April 11, 2010

By Hwang Doo-hyong

WASHINGTON, April 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has up to six nuclear weapons, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said.

In a Friday speech at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, Clinton said "we know" that North Korea "has somewhere between one and six nuclear weapons," the second time in as many weeks that she has recognized that North Korea has nuclear weapons.

While explaining the Obama administration's nuclear policy late last month, the top U.S. diplomat depicted North Korea as a country "that already has nuclear weapons," and Iran as one that is "clearly seeking nuclear weapons," although the U.S. government's official position is not to recognize the North as a nuclear weapons state.

North Korea, which conducted its second nuclear test in May last year, is widely believed to possess several nuclear warheads, with some analysts saying it has already developed the technology to mount the warheads on long-range missiles.

The North's second nuclear test is widely seen as having demonstrated its nuclear capability, unlike the previous one, considered a partial failure.

North Korea said late last year that it has "entered the final stage" of enriching uranium as an alternative way to produce nuclear weapons. It had been producing weapons-grade plutonium at its sole operating reactor in Yongbyon, north of its capital, Pyongyang.

North Korea is also suspected of having secured enough plutonium for many more nuclear weapons from former Soviet republics after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

A Nov. 25 report of the Federation of American Scientists listed North Korea among nine nuclear weapons states, along with the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, Pakistan and India.

Meanwhile, the World Nuclear Stockpile Report, written by Hans Kristensen of the FAS and Robert Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council in September, said North Korea appears to have 10 nuclear weapons, although it added, "There is no publicly available evidence that North Korea has operationalized its nuclear weapons capability."

Clinton, meanwhile, told students at the University of Louisville that she hopes the Obama administration's new nuclear policy will help quell the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.

"I'm not suggesting that a move by the United States and Russia to reduce our nuclear stockpiles will convince Iran or North Korea to change their behavior," she said. However, she added that China, which wields veto power in the U.N. Security Council and has a great leverage on North Korea and Iran, will "become more willing to engage with us" on North Korea and Iran.

The NPR report, released Tuesday under a Congressional mandate, announced for the first time that the U.S. will renounce its use of nuclear weapons on non-nuclear weapons states in compliance with international nonproliferation obligations, but left open all options, including nuclear attacks, on North Korea and Iran.

The START II to replace the 1991 START, which expired in December, calls for the U.S. and Russia to reduce their deployed strategic warheads to 1,500 from 2,200 and significantly cut missiles and launchers. The U.S. nuclear stockpile is estimated at about 10,000 weapons, with Russia at over 13,000.

"I know from firsthand experience that this START treaty has left little room for some nations to hide," Clinton said. "They are finding it more and more difficult to make the case that they don't have their own responsibilities. I believe the new START treaty does put us in a better position to strengthen the nonproliferation regime when parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty meet together in May."

Clinton noted that both North Korea experienced turmoil last year.

"In North Korea, the leadership -- what do they call him, the Dear Leader? -- has had some health problems," she said. "Kim Jong-il has had some difficulties with some of the economic policies that he's put forward that have engendered real popular protest on the part of North Koreans. So it's been difficult to get this regime to move back into the six-party talks."

She was still optimistic Pyongyang will return to the six-party talks on its denuclearization.

"But our alliance with China, Russia and South Korea and Japan is very strong, and I believe we will eventually get there," she said.

On Friday, North Korea said that the NPR report has chilled the atmosphere for the resumption of the nuclear talks, deadlocked over U.N. sanctions for the North's nuclear and missile tests early last year.

The North's Foreign Ministry also threatened to bolster its nuclear weapons and modernize them as a deterrent against an attack from the U.S.

As a precondition for coming back to the nuclear talks, Pyongyang has recently called for lifting sanctions and the starting talks for a peace treaty to officially replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War

Washington insists that Pyongyang come back to the nuclear talks before discussing other issues.

hdh@yna.co.kr
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