August 25, 2006

South Korea certain North has nuclear bombs-minister

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is certain North Korea has
nuclear weapons and Seoul's best estimate is Pyongyang has
produced one or two bombs, its defense minister said on Friday,
amid reports that the North may be preparing a nuclear test.

Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ing has previously said he
believed the North had one or two nuclear weapons, but his
remarks in parliament on Friday were among the strongest yet on
the North's possession of atomic bombs.

"It is estimated that the North has one or two," Yoon told
a parliamentary hearing when asked about the North's nuclear
arsenal. When asked if the South has no doubt about the North's
possession of a nuclear weapon, Yoon said: "That's correct."

Yoon also said there was not enough evidence at present to
conclude the North is about to conduct its first nuclear
weapons test.

North Korea declared in February 2005 it possessed nuclear
weapons. U.S. and Japanese news reports have said the North
might be preparing to conduct an underground nuclear test.

In July, the communist state defied international warnings
and test-fired seven missiles, prompting condemnation by the
U.N. Security Council.

Yoon said there were activities at a North Korean nuclear
site as have been described in news reports, but they did not
yet amount to conclusive evidence of an imminent test.

"More analysis of data is needed to talk about the
possibility (of a test)," Yoon said.

North Korea has been working for years to build a nuclear
weapon, but proliferation experts have not been able to say
with certainty if the North had built an atomic bomb.

North Korea had up to six nuclear weapons in 1994 when it
agreed to freeze all related programmes, but the number is
likely to have risen, Leon J. LaPorte, former commander of the
U.S. military in Korea said in South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo in

"The estimate of one or two is actually fairly dated," said
a senior expert on the North's nuclear programme at the Korea
Institute of Defense Analyses, Kim Tae-woo.

"But to say he has no doubt about it is definitely a step
forward," Kim said.

Most estimates of the North's nuclear arsenal vary between
five to 10 and sometimes more, Kim said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said a North
Korean nuclear weapons test would have a far more devastating
consequence than the missiles test.

Ban said the July missile launches had cast a shadow over
prospects for North Korea to resume six-country talks aimed at
ending its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for aid and
security guarantees.

(With additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz)