US 'exaggerating nuclear threat from North Korea'

International nuclear experts have accused the White House of exaggerating North Korea's nuclear threat to support its claim that the communist state was part of an "axis of evil" – just as it did with Iraq's before the 2003 invasion.

The accusations follow Pyongyang's first revelations about its nuclear programme under an international deal, and at the end of a week that saw an unprecedented opening up by the hermit state to the largest US cultural delegation since the Korean war.

North Korea's acknowledgement that it has 30kg of plutonium – enough for six bombs – is at the low end of Western assessments, according to experts. Although Pyongyang missed a second deadline of 25 February to come clean on all its nuclear programmes – and there are doubts that it ever will – questions are now being raised about the exact threat posed by North Korea, whose one and only nuclear test is generally thought to have been a flop.

The main focus is on North Korea's uranium programme, which could provide a second path to a nuclear weapon, but which its leaders deny having. The US accused North Korea of cheating in 2002 after intercepting a shipment of aluminium tubes which could have been used in gas centrifuges to enrich the fuel. Since then, however, America has backtracked.

"It's up there with the Iraq nuclear assessment," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. "It was aluminium tubes in both cases. They may have done the same (with North Korea) and weighted it far too highly." Unlike the Iraqi case, the 2002 incident did not lead to war. "But it caused a lot of damage," he said, noting that the US accusations led to the breakdown of the "grand bargain" negotiated by the Clinton administration and prompted North Korea to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and end a freeze on plutonium production.

Another western expert said that "it's highly unlikely that they've got a full scale programme". Now that the US had raised the enriched uranium programme as an issue, "it becomes difficult for [the North Koreans] to prove they didn't do it" – another echo of Iraq.

A second disputed area exploited by hardliners in the White House is North Korean proliferation to Syria. Israel bombed a Syrian site in September amid reports that it was a nuclear facility. "We know the North Koreans worked with the Syrians on missiles, but it's not remotely plausible on nuclear," said the expert.

The mood music around North Korea changed with last week's performance by the New York Philharmonic orchestra in Pyongyang. But the trip had been planned amid the euphoria of last October's deal in which North Korea agreed to disable its nuclear facilities in return for oil, aid and the normalising of relations with America and its neighbours.

But now, the process has stalled, with a slowdown in the delivery of heavy fuel oil and with North Korea refusing to provide further details on its nuclear programmes and proliferation.

Hans Blix, the former chief UN weapons inspector for Iraq, noted a big difference between America's two enemies: "In North Korea, there was plutonium. The Iraqis had nothing." But he, too, said that the hardliners in the Bush administration "have all the time wanted to hype things, because they ride on scare."

Bomb facts

*Nuclear test in October 2006 considered a failure – yield was a fraction of the Hiroshima explosion

*Pyongyang admitted it has 30kg of plutonium

*North Korea denies enriching uranium. Experts doubt US claims of programme to enrich uranium to weapons grade level

*No confirmation of transfer of nuclear material to Syria

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police