An unofficial delegation of U.S. experts visiting North Korea last week examined what the Pyongyang government said was its “nuclear deterrent,” apparently providing the first confirmation that Pyongyang has produced the key ingredient for nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials said they have received only initial details of the visit, and they cautioned that they do not yet know the full extent of the facilities and materials examined by the delegation. But one official said it appeared the delegation had been shown what the North Koreans described as recently reprocessed plutonium.
According to this account, North Korean officials told the experts the material has not been placed in a nuclear device and that it was prepared to “freeze” it to resolve the crisis over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
U.S. intelligence has long estimated that North Korea during the 1980s had obtained enough weapons-grade plutonium for one or two weapons, but that analysis was largely based on guesswork. Moreover, U.S. analysts have not been able to confirm North Korea had obtained additional plutonium from 8,000 spent fuel rods after ousting U.N. inspectors a year ago from its Yongbyon nuclear facility. No outsiders — before this delegation — have visited Yongbyon since the inspectors left.
It is certainly no huge surprise that Pyongyang has the necessary ingredients for a nuclear device. If true, it is a bit surprising that they haven’t yet weaponized it, although that’s a formality.
I’ll be interested to see what diplomatic solution arises from this. We don’t want to reward them for violating previous agreements especially, as the Clinton team proved, buying them off is no guarantee of compliance. Once a country has established the resources to produce nuclear weapons, it’s almost impossible to put the proverbial genie back into the bottle. There will have to be an incredibly intrusive inspection regime at a minimum.