Perry: Downplaying N. Korean nukes threatens U.S. security

Thursday, January 30, 2003

A former defense secretary has warned the White House that minimizing Pyongyang's nuclear threat could encourage North Korea to continue its export of nuclear components and technology to its clients in the Middle East.

Former Defense Secretary William Perry said the absence of an administration war strategy involving North Korea has suggested Washington is not concerned about the resumption of North Korea's nuclear production program.

A major component of the North Korean economy involves the sale of missile and nuclear technology, primarily to rogue states in the Mideast.

Perry, who led U.S. efforts to stop Pyongyang's nuclear program in 1994, said any administration strategy must stress the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons to U.S. security.

"Indeed, I believe that any strategy for dealing with this difficult problem must be based on the understanding that allowing North Korea to undertake the production of fissile material and nuclear bombs would be a major setback for American security, for regional security, and for international security," Perry said.

"Given North Korea's record as proliferators of ballistic missiles and given their desperate economic condition, we must assume that some of the products of this nuclear program would be for sale to the highest bidders, not excluding terrorist groups."

In a Jan. 24 address to the Brookings Institution, Perry said any impression that the administration has become resigned to North Korea's nuclear program would lead to weaken U.S. deterrence and lead to a conclusion by Pyongyang that Washington is unwilling to defend its interests in East Asia. He also warned that North Korea's nuclear program might begin a domino effect of proliferation in East Asia, prompting South Korea, Japan and Taiwan to question their own non-nuclear status.

"For all of these reasons, the North Korean nuclear program poses an unacceptable security risk," Perry said. "United States strategy should be designed to ensure that the present activities at Yongbyon do not reach the production stage. Clearly to achieve this objective without war will take an aggressive and a creative diplomatic strategy."

The former defense secretary warned that in a matter of weeks North Korea could use its fuel rods to produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for five bombs. Once the plutonium is reprocessed, Perry said, it could be moved anywhere, making it much more difficult subsequently to find and destroy. He said North Korea probably has two nuclear weapons, based on nuclear fuel concealed from the International Atomic Energy Agency in the early 1990s.

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