January 20, 2009

It doesn't look like Obama's going to have much downtime anytime soon:

SEOUL, South Korea — The North Korean military declared an “all-out confrontational posture” against South Korea on Saturday as an American scholar said North Korean officials told him they had “weaponized” enough plutonium for roughly four or five nuclear bombs.

Thousands of North Koreans turned colored cards to form the image of an atom last year during a performance at a stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.

American intelligence officials have previously estimated that the North had harvested enough fuel for six or more bombs, although it has never been clear whether the North constructed the weapons. The scholar, Selig S. Harrison, said the officials had not defined what “weaponized” meant, but the implication was that they had built nuclear arms.

The North conducted a test of a nuclear device in 2006, but it appeared to result in a fizzle and experts concluded the explosion was relatively small. While the country has often claimed to possess a “deterrent,” this appears to be the first time it has quantified how much plutonium it says it has turned into weapons.

After the threats on Saturday, South Korea ordered its military to heighten vigilance along the heavily fortified border with North Korea, according to a spokesman for the South Korean military joint chiefs of staff.

[...] With President-elect Barack Obama about to take office and negotiations over the North’s nuclear program expected to resume, it is possible that the North is merely setting up its negotiating position. But analysts said the North’s remarks could also be an indication that it was intending to hold onto its arms despite an agreement it signed with five countries including the United States in 2005, in which it committed to eventually giving up any nuclear weapons. The exact conditions under which it would do so were left vague.

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