Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Expert: N. Korea Has Several Nuclear Warheads

So destroy it on the launchpad. Better oops it really was a satellite than oops there goes Seoul.


Expert: N. Korea Has Several Nuclear Warheads

Tuesday , March 31, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea is believed to have several nuclear warheads that could be mounted on a missile, an international security expert said Tuesday ahead of a rocket launch that regional powers suspect will test weapon delivery technology.

But Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based North Korea expert for the International Crisis Group, stressed it is unclear if the communist nation has mastered the technology necessary to mount the warheads onto missiles.

North Korea says it will send a communications satellite into orbit between April 4 and 8. The U.S., South Korea and Japan think the communist regime is using the launch to test long-range missile technology, and warn it would face sanctions under a U.N. Security Council resolution banning the country from ballistic activity.

Japan is particularly concerned about the launch because the multistage rocket is expected to pass over its territory.

Click to view photos Satellite image of the launch area

"North Korea should listen to the international community, and we strongly urge the North to refrain from the launch," said a resolution passed unanimously in both houses of Japan's parliament. Prime Minister Taro Aso said Tokyo will take the issue to the U.N. Security Council for possible punishment if the launch takes place.

Pinkston said the communist nation has two underground nuclear warhead storage facilities near bases for its medium-range Rodong missiles, which are capable of striking Japan.

He said he obtained the information from intelligence officials from a country or countries that he wouldn't identify.

"Their assessment is that North Korea has deployed" and assembled "nuclear warheads for Rodong missiles, and there are two nuclear warhead storage facilities near Rodong bases," Pinkston told The Associated Press.

He said it is unclear if Pyongyang has mastered technology to miniaturize the warheads and put them on Rodongs, which have a range of 620 to 930 miles. The North is believed to have five to eight warheads, he said.

The National Intelligence Service, South Korea's main spy agency, said Tuesday that it could not confirm Pinkston's remarks.

Kim Tae-woo, a missile expert at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, said the North has been focusing on efforts to mount nuclear warheads on the Rodongs because the long-range Taepodong series has not been fully deployed yet.

"Rodong is the most likely weapon to be mounted with nuclear warheads," Kim said. He said it's also "natural" for the North to try to put a nuclear warhead on a missile with a longer range.

The North has designated a zone near Japan's northern coast where debris could fall, prompting Tokyo to deploy battleships and Patriot missile interceptors to protect the area and Tokyo. The North has warned that any attack on its satellite would be an act of war; Japan has said it will only try to protect itself from debris if the launch fails.

Two U.S. destroyers are believed to have departed from South Korea to monitor the rocket launch. South Korea is also dispatching its Aegis-equipped destroyer, according to a Seoul military official who asked not to be named, citing department policy.

Further fueling tensions, hundreds of U.S. and South Korean troops planned to conduct an air assault exercise Tuesday. Pyongyang has strongly condemned similar joint drills in the South as preparations to invade the North.

The two allies conducted large-scale annual exercises for 12 days in March, prompting angry reaction from Pyongyang, including threats to South Korean passenger planes and a repeated halts in cross-border traffic.

Adding to the complexity of the situation on the Korean peninsula, the North announced Tuesday it will indict and try two American journalists accused of crossing the border illegally from China on March 17 and engaging in "hostile acts."

The North may try to use the detentions as a bargaining tool after the rocket launch, said Yang Moo-jin, an analyst at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.

Separately, a South Korean worker was detained Monday at a joint industrial zone in the North for allegedly denouncing Pyongyang's political system and inciting North Korean workers to flee the communist country.

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