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U.S. official says N. Korean nuclear trade threatens global security

All Headlines 14:06 August 30, 2010

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Aug. 30 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's illicit trading of nuclear material and technology with other countries presents a major concern for global nuclear security and it warrants strengthening of nuclear detection and forensics, a visiting senior U.S. official said Monday.

Laura Holgate, senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction at the National Security Council in Washington, said there are "established patterns of (nuclear) trade" involving North Korea and other states.

"In regards to the nuclear security issue, in particular nuclear material security, obviously, one of the big concerns is that North Korea sells a lot of nuclear technology illegally to people who shouldn't have it," Holgate said at a security forum in Seoul. "There's a very strong concern that there might be some kind of illicit sale of nuclear material that we know North Korea has, to people who might do bad things with it."

Holgate named Burma, Syria and al-Qaida as potential recipients of North Korean nuclear material and said, "It'd be very dangerous if plutonium or highly enriched uranium found its ways into those channels.

"That's one of the important things about beefing up ... nuclear detection and nuclear forensics. Problems have come from that," she said. "I think there are pieces of the global puzzle that apply there, given that they do have material. It's very concerning."

Holgate is visiting Seoul for a forum titled "Nuclear Security Workshop," co-hosted by the Korea Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control and the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia. Holgate and other presenters discussed the outcome of the inaugural Nuclear Security Summit held in April in Washington and looked forward to the 2012 meeting to be held in Seoul.

At the Washington meeting, leaders agreed to work together to secure loose nuclear materials around the world over the next four years, out of concern that such materials could fall into hands of terrorists.

Holgate has previously said this is "a lofty but a worthy" goal. She insisted Monday that securing these materials is a four-year "effort and process."

"Four-year effort means a very concerted push in the next four years to improve things. That doesn't mean you finish it and you walk away," Holgate said. "I want to be clear it's a four-year effort and not everything is secure at the end of four years."

The official also said no one country can achieve the goal without help.

"I think we have the opportunity to make a lot of progress," she said. "It depends on the willingness of other countries to accept cooperation and to recognize the need for them to improve themselves. It really comes down to a stronger sense of shared threat, (and) how do we apply resources to improve that."

South Korea was selected as the host for the next nuclear summit in an apparent warning to North Korea for defying international pressure to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. North Korea wasn't among the 47 states at the first meeting.

Regional powers are divided over when and how to restart the six-party talks -- involving the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, Japan and host China -- which are aimed at ending the North's nuclear program but have been suspended since December 2008 due to Pyongyang's boycott. South Korea maintains North Korea must first apologize for torpedoing the South Korean warship Cheonan in March and take concrete steps toward denuclearization, a position backed by the U.S.

North Korea continues to demand, as preconditions to the talks, lifting of international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang for its provocations and holding negotiations for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

The North recently expressed a willingness to push for a "three-step" approach to the stalled talks, which would involve a bilateral meeting with the U.S. and then informal talks with other dialogue partners before the full discussions.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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