August 25, 2006

CORRECTED: S. Korea certain North has nuclear bombs: minister

Corrects defence ministers name in paragraph 3 to Yoon

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.

Another senior official said South Korea and China had
agreed to cooperate in preventing the North from conducting a
test, which would pose a grave situation in the region.

Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung 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 that
would demonstrate its capability.

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

Song Min-soon, South Korea's chief presidential secretary
on national security, was quoted by Yonhap news agency as
saying Beijing was well aware of the grave consequence a North
Korea nuclear test would bring about.

"South Korea and China would continue to cooperate so (a
nuclear test) would not take place," Yonhap quoted Song as
saying following a trip to China to meet Foreign Minister Li

When asked if he had urged China to "apply pressure" on
North Korea, Song said: "This is a matter of cooperation, not

The defense minister said certain activities had been
observed at a North Korean nuclear site, 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 had up to six nuclear weapons in 1994 when it
agreed to freeze all related programs, 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 April.

"The estimate of one or two is actually fairly dated," said
a senior expert on the North's nuclear program 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 program in exchange for aid and
security guarantees.

(With additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Rhee