Nuclear Weapons - 2003 Developments
James A. Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 12 March 2003, said "It is essential that North Korea not reprocess its spent nuclear fuel into plutonium. That could produce significant plutonium within six months. But the HEU alternate capability is not so far behind. Resolution is not just a matter of getting the North to forswear its nuclear weapons ambitions, but also to accept a reliable, intrusive verification regime, including declaration, inspection, and irreversible and verifiable elimination."
On June 4, 2003, during testimony before Congress, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John R. Bolton announced that the United States had, within the previous two months, intercepted aluminum tubes likely bound for North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
In mid-2003 the CIA reported that North Korea had begun testing conventional primary explosives that were apparently associated with advanced nuclear warhead designs. Such smaller light-weight nuclear warheads could increase the range of North Korean missiles. The CIA also reported that North Korean had a conventional explosives test site that could support nuclear weapons tests.
President Bush said he was optimistic that the multilateral talks with North Korea that he has long hoped for will convince North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il to change his attitude about nuclear weaponry. During a press conference 01 August 2003, Bush said "We fully understand the past. We are hopeful, however, that Mr. Kim Jong-il, because he's hearing other voices, will make the decision to totally dismantle his nuclear weapons program, that he will allow there to be complete transparency and verifiability. And we're optimistic that that can happen."
On 02 December 2003 South Korea's foreign ministry announced that a group including US congressional foreign policy aides and a top nuclear scientist, would visit North Korea. The delegation had been invited to tour the nuclear complex at Yongbyon. It will be the first time outsiders have been allowed to inspect North Korea's main nuclear complex since the communist government expelled United Nations inspectors a year earlier. The US delegation will visit North Korea for four days beginning January 6th. It reportedly will include about five people. The White House gave its consent for the trip, according to the U-S-A Today newspaper. Two months earlier, the Bush administration blocked a trip to North Korea planned by a Congressional delegation. The trip came amid efforts to convene a second round of multi-lateral talks about North Korea's nuclear weapons development. New talks hade been anticipated for more than a month, but the process appeared stalled. Differences remained over how a settlement, involving an end to the North Korean nuclear program in exchange for multi-lateral security guarantees, would be sequenced.
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