Updated March. 22, 2012 05:36
A leading American nuclear weapons expert said Wednesday that North Korea should no longer be allowed to launch missiles, conduct additional nuclear tests, or develop centrifuges.
Siegfried Hecker, a professor at Stanford University, said, North Korea argues that launching long-range rockets is its legitimate right but is the only country in the world to think so. He was speaking to The Dong-A Ilbo at the 2012 Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference in South Korea`s largest port city of Busan.
The Norths (planned) long-range rocket launch makes a mockery of the Feb. 29 North Korea-U.S. agreement, he added.
A former director of the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory, Hecker is a world-renowned nuclear scientist and specialist on the North`s nuclear program who has visited North Korea seven times. In November 2010, he became the first Western expert to see the Norths centrifuges for uranium enrichment and told this to the world.
The following is excerpts from the Dong-A interview.
Dong-A: In Beijing on Monday, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho claimed that the Feb. 29 agreement and the Norths planned satellite launch are separate issues and thus denied a violation of the agreement with the U.S. Do you agree?
Hecker: A rocket launch uses the same technology as a missile launch. North Korea is banned from using the technology due to U.N. sanctions. In the Feb. 29 agreement, the North promised not to launch missiles. It seems to me that its claim is outrageous and makes a mockery of the agreement. Had the North not developed nuclear weapons, it would`ve had the right to launch rockets. But trying to launch a rocket while possessing nuclear weapons is in violation of U.N. regulations. It`s preposterous.
Dong-A: If the North planned to launch a rocket in advance, why did it agree on the Feb. 29 pact? Does this indicate conflict between hawks and moderates (in the North)?
Hecker: I cannot comment on political questions.
Dong-A: Despite the planned rocket launch, North Korea said it will agree to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Hecker: The Feb. 29 agreement announced by the U.S. mentions the monitoring of the Norths nuclear facilities and verification by international inspectors, while the Norths version cites only monitoring. It is unclear exactly what the agreement meant. While the Feb. 29 accord is important, it`s not enough because the North probably has more enrichment facilities other than those in Yongbyon.
If we go back to the timetable, the enrichment facilities in Yongbyon weren`t even ready for operation when the North announced in 2010 that it had succeeded in uranium enrichment. That`s why there`s no choice but to consider that the North has other facilities. North Korea will likely invite inspectors to use them as witnesses for its claim that it has no highly enriched uranium but merely low enriched uranium necessary for nuclear power plants. Iran did the same in the past.
Dong-A: It has been a year and a half since North Korea announced its centrifuges. How much has it been able to increase its nuclear arsenal since then?
Hecker: It`s hard to say exactly how many nuclear weapons the North has because I don`t know how many centrifuges it has. What is clear is that the North has more facilities other than those in Yongbyon and will produce highly enriched uranium there. Even if the North invites international inspectors, it will never show them the facilities. Since North Korea probably has nuclear weapons already, it must be prevented from launching additional missiles, conducting additional nuclear tests, and producing additional centrifuges.
Dong-A: Why does North Korea plan to launch a long-range rocket? Does it mean that it is in the final stage of making a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a missile?
Hecker: Not necessarily, but there is a risk. If the North possesses nuclear warheads, it can pose a threat to any country in the world. Therefore, the North must be stopped from conducting a third nuclear test. As it did in 2009 when it launched the Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite, Pyongyang could conduct another nuclear test after launching a long-range rocket. I`m not concerned about the rocket launch per se but about nuclear warheads being made smaller through a nuclear test. In October 2010 (when the North held a military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling North Korean Workers` Party), a month before the North invited me, it showed its Musudan mobile missile (SS-N-6). The missile is modeled after a Soviet model mounted on a submarine. If a nuclear warhead is mounted on the missile, it will be very threatening.
Dong-A: Do you plan to visit North Korea again?
Hecker: No. North Korea didn`t invite me.
Dong-A: Do you think that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons?
Hecker: I am pessimistic over the short term but optimistic over the long term. North Korea will ultimately abandon its nuclear weapons if it learns that the gains from giving up its nuclear weapons are bigger than gains from keeping them. Look at how the North took one step ahead with the Feb. 29 agreement and then took another backward. It claims its right to peacefully use outer space and launch satellites, but only North Korea thinks so while no other country in the world does."