19 July 2003

Be very, very afraid

From the Sydney Morning Herald:
North Korea is poised to build at least one nuclear missile, according to new Chinese intelligence, taking the crisis over its weapons program to a dangerous and alarming phase.

The finding comes amid reports that Beijing has recently determined that Pyongyang has reprocessed enough spent nuclear fuel rods to produce the plutonium for a nuclear bomb.

This would partly support North Korea's recent claim to the United States that it had reprocessed 8000 rods - enough for at least six bombs.

The confirmation by Beijing of the advanced state of North Korea's nuclear program would explain China's intense efforts in the past week to bring it to the negotiating table.

China's Vice-Foreign Minister, Dai Bingguo, was due in Washington last night to brief the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, about Mr Dai's rare audience on Monday with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il.

He is believed to have a letter from China's President, Hu Jintao, for President George Bush. In Pyongyang, Mr Dai delivered a letter from Mr Hu to Mr Kim, as China pressured North Korea to join talks with the US, hosted by Beijing.

As intensive diplomatic rounds continued in the region, South Korea struck an optimistic note, telling the Prime Minister, John Howard, yesterday that it was confident of forging a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Mr Howard said such a development would remove any question of Australia joining a proposed naval force to intercept North Korean vessels suspected of carrying weapons and drugs.

I am not certain history will forgive Bush and Blair if it turns out that the axis of evil speech and the lurch to military adventures merely persuaded Iran and North Korea that the only defence against these new empire-builders is going nuclear.

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