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CNN LIVE SATURDAY

U.S. Suspects North Korea Of Reprocessing Uranium

Aired July 12, 2003 - 18:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOPHIA CHOI, CNN ANCHOR: We start this hour with renewed worries over North Korea. The communist country may be in the process of producing materials for nuclear weapons.
CNN's Chris Plante is standing by at the Pentagon with the details - Chris.

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Sophia. That's right. There are renewed signs tonight that North Korea, one of the countries making up George Bush's axis of evil, may be renewing efforts in the area of nuclear weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLANTE (voice-over): North Korea appears to be reprocessing old nuclear fuel rods into plutonium, possibly for use in the production of nuclear weapons that's according to a U.S. intelligence report this week. The issue of nuclear weapons in North Korea is of grave concern to the U.S., something President Bush has made clear.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea. We will not give in to blackmail. We will not settle for anything less than the complete verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

PLANTE: The U.S. says the reprocessing is taking place at the Yongbyon facility. An analysis of air samples found the presence of krypton-85, a gas byproduct. The U.S. believes that North Korea already has at least one nuclear weapon and possibly three, but in this case more is clearly not better.

DANIEL PONEMAN, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY OFFICIAL: Basically, we have three choices. We can either ignore the problem and hope that it goes away or we can take some form of military action which may or may not be effective and raises a serious risk of war in Korea, or we can try to find some form of agreement.

PLANTE: Believed to have about 8,000 spent fuel rods, experts say that North Korea could potentially build six or as many as 12 nuclear weapons with the reprocessed fuel raising further concerns that the impoverished nation might sell nuclear weapons or components to the highest bidder.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLANTE: For its part, the Bush administration has tried to form an international coalition to apply economic pressure to bring North Korea into line but with little success. Russia and China oppose economic sanctions and insist the United States negotiate with North Korea, a dilemma for the Bush administration is what approach it can take without giving in to what it calls blackmail - Sophia.

CHOI: Chris, North Korea has been making threats about these nuclear - this nuclear program for weeks if not months now and yet the Bush administration said it didn't take this threat seriously until just now. Why is that?

PLANTE: Well, I don't believe that they've come out and said that they take this threat seriously so far today either but it is something that they've been watching very closely.

The United States would like to see the international community become involved and apply pressure, economic and otherwise, to the government of North Korea because really the option is to allow North Korea to go ahead with this program to the point where the United States or the international community is forced essentially to capitulate to the demands.

And, as we know, North Korea is strapped economically and in political straits to some extent and a desperate regime may take desperate actions, so it is very much an area of great concern -- Sophia.

CHOI: All right, Chris Plante at the Pentagon, thanks so much for clearing that up.

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