Nuclear arms program in South Korea

The White House said on Friday that South Korea and other nations should send a "clear message" to North Korea of their commitment to a nuclear-free peninsula after Seoul admitted government scientists had enriched uranium to nearly weapons-grade levels. "All parties should send a clear message to North Korea about a nuclear-free peninsula and the need for North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. But a senior administration official said the White House was not singling out Seoul after it acknowledged the 4-year-old experiments and the International Atomic Energy Agency announced a major investigation. "We're not asking for any South Korean actions," the official said. South Korea said the experiments, which involved enriching uranium with lasers, were carried out by a group of scientists without government knowledge and soon ended. It said it has no nuclear weapons program or capability, informs Reuters. According to the NYTimes, Officials in South Korea continued Friday to try to assure the world that the nation had no nuclear arms program, with its top nuclear researcher saying government scientists had enriched a speck of uranium "smaller than a sesame seed" merely "to satisfy their curiosity." "Some misunderstood this experiment as a step to build nuclear weapons, but atomic energy experts would probably laugh at such claims," Chang In Soon, director of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, the government laboratory where the experiment took place, told the Seoul newspaper JoongAng Ilbo. Acknowledging that his institute was not authorized to enrich uranium, he said the scientists performed the work using equipment that had been assembled for a different experiment. Two weeks ago South Korea informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that government scientists at a government laboratory had performed two months of tests in early 2000 that enriched tiny amounts of uranium far above levels for known civilian uses. On Friday, officials repeatedly emphasized that the country did not have a nuclear weapons program. South Korean government scientists secretly enriched uranium to nearly bomb-grade levels in experiments conducted four years ago, officials in Seoul and Vienna acknowledged yesterday, as the International Atomic Energy Agency announced it had launched a major investigation of the country's programs and nuclear technologies. U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States had begun a separate inquiry into whether the scientists involved had trained at U.S. nuclear facilities as part of friendly exchange programs and whether the technology may have come from the United States years ago. Experts and diplomats said revelations that a U.S. ally conducted secret nuclear work, in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, could complicate efforts by the Bush administration to increase international pressure on Iran and North Korea, which are also accused of conducting clandestine programs. The administration wants Iran referred to the U.N. Security Council for violating its commitments to the treaty. But South Korea, also a signatory to the treaty, could face the Security Council first, some diplomats said on the condition of anonymity, publishes the Washington Post.

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