U.S. intelligence agencies and government scientists have come up with strong evidence that North Korea sold processed uranium to Libya, apparently to assist the North African country in nuclear weapons development, an administration official said Wednesday.
The materials were detected in Libya’s shipments of weapons-related materials to the United States after the country agreed to dismantle its nuclear arms program in late 2003, said the official, asking not to be identified.
The official said he was uncertain as to whether U.S. officials ever asked the Libyans about the country of origin of its nuclear materials.
The possibility of North Korea’s export of nuclear materials and technology has long been a concern of the United States. The reclusive communist state is known to have sold missiles to Iran and Syria in past years.
The story about the alleged dealings between North Korea and Libya was first reported by The New York Times. It has previously been reported that Libya relied on the A.Q. Kahn network in Pakistan for nuclear materials.
U.S. pushing talks with North
The White House and the State Department had no comment on the reported link between Libya and North Korea.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, “North Korea’s nuclear program and nuclear weapons programs and its past and continuing proliferation activities are a threat to global peace and security.”
“North Korea’s actions underscore the importance of moving forward through the six-party talks,” he said.
McClellan said that two members of the National Security Council staff recently traveled to several Asian capitals to discuss ways to restart the negotiations.
“We put forward a proposal at the last round of talks,” he said. “We believe it addresses the concerns of all parties involved in those decisions. We believe that the proposal is the way forward to finding a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue in North Korea.”
“The proposal and the six-party process is the best way for North Korea to address the concerns of the international community and to end its international isolation,” McClellan said.
The U.S. objective in the discussions is the verifiable dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
The strong belief that North Korea transferred nuclear materials could increase the sense of urgency among administration on the need for a diplomatic solution.
The Times report said the tentative conclusion about the North Korean activity supports earlier clues that the dictatorship exported fuel for atomic weapons.
Government officials in Washington are trying to determine whether North Korea has sold uranium, an ingredient necessary for atomic weapons, to other countries, including Iran and Syria. So far, there is no evidence of that, the Times said.
Testing points to North Korea
The Times reported that international inspectors tested nearly two tons of uranium material that Libya surrendered to the United States when it dismantled its nuclear program. The material, uranium hexafluroide, can be converted into bomb fuel.
The newspaper quoted an unnamed intelligence official as saying that that testing showed “with a certainty of 90 percent or better,” that the materials came from North Korea.
Experts said the findings advance the West’s understanding of North Korea’s uranium program.
“It means the North Koreans have built a facility to process uranium,” Leonard S. Specter, the deputy director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute in California, told the Times. “And it raises the disturbing prospect that they’ve now made enough of it to feel comfortable selling some.”
Nuclear intelligence experts said they compared samples of the Libyan uranium with samples from other countries by matching uranium isotopes.
They concluded that the uranium had to have come from North Korea.