North Korea said today that it was in the final stages of enriching uranium, a process that could give the nation a second way to make nuclear bombs in addition to its known plutonium-enriching programme.
The official Korean Central News Agency said North Korea informed the United Nations Security Council it was forging ahead with its nuclear programmes in defiance of international calls to abandon its atomic ambitions.
The dispatch said plutonium “is being weaponised” and that uranium enrichment - a programme North Korea revealed in recent months – was entering the “completion phase”.
Experts had long suspected the existence of a hidden uranium enrichment programme which would give the regime a second source of nuclear material.
The North’s announcement came a day after a US envoy arrived in Beijing for talks with Chinese officials on how to get North Korea back on track with its commitments to nuclear disarmament.
Stephen Bosworth, the special envoy to North Korea, was arriving in Seoul today for similar consultations with South Korean officials before travelling to Tokyo on Sunday as part of an Asia tour amid recent conciliatory moves by Pyongyang.
His visit to the region aims to “continue consultations with our partners and allies on how to best convince North Korea that it must live up to its obligations ... and take irreversible steps toward complete denuclearisation”, the US embassy in Beijing said.
North Korea called the decision to push ahead with its nuclear programmes a reaction to the security council’s moves to toughen sanctions against the regime for testing a nuclear bomb in May.
The report called the resolution a “wanton violation of the DPRK’s sovereignty and dignity”. DPRK stands for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The US, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have been negotiating with North Korea for years on dismantling its nuclear programme in exchange for aid and other concessions.
North Korea walked away from the talks earlier this year and conducted its second nuclear test in May, drawing international condemnation and new UN sanctions.
The North’s move also came amid its conciliatory overtures to Seoul and Washington. The North has freed two US journalists and five South Koreans, including four fishermen, in recent weeks.
The two Koreas also agreed to restart reunions of Korean family separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and restored regular traffic to a joint industrial park in the North.