North Korea has plutonium 'to make six nuclear bombs'

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The Independent Online

The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog has issued a new warning about North Korea's nuclear potential, at a time when the reclusive communist state is reported to be preparing its first known test of an atomic weapon.

The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog has issued a new warning about North Korea's nuclear potential, at a time when the reclusive communist state is reported to be preparing its first known test of an atomic weapon.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the IAEA inspectors believed North Korea may have enough weapons-grade plutonium to make up to six nuclear weapons.

His comments to CNN on Sunday evening came as recent satellite imagery has suggested that North Korea may be digging an underground test site.

US intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has one or more nuclear weapons and are said to have warned allies that a test could take place as early as next month.

Mr ElBaradei, who has warned of the disastrous effects internationally of a North Korean nuclear test, described the latest developments as a "cry for help" on Pyongyang's part.

"North Korea, I think, has been seeking a dialogue with the United States, with the rest of the international community ... through their usual policy of nuclear blackmail, nuclear brinkmanship, to force the other parties to engage them," he said.

"We know that they had the industrial infrastructure to weaponise this plutonium. We have read also that they have the delivery system. I do hope that the North Koreans would absolutely reconsider such a reckless, reckless step."

In the absence of the UN inspectors, who were expelled from North Korea in 2002, it is impossible to know the extent of its nuclear capability. Britain and the rest of the international community have been urging North Korea to continue negotiations within the framework of six-party talks, involving North and South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia.

But North Korea has boycotted the talks since June, and repeated at the end of last week that it would stay away unless the United States dropped what it called hostile policy toward the communist regime.

The latest developments come at a time when the 35-year-old Non-Proliferation Treaty is being reviewed at UN headquarters in New York. North Korea has pulled out of the NPT and is not attending the conference which, after a full week of negotiations, still had no agenda yesterday as a result of deadlock between the five recognised nuclear powers and the nuclear "have-nots".

The latter want to focus on steps the big five should have taken towards global disarmament, while Washington and the other nuclear powers are more concerned about the risks of nuclear proliferation.

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