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Expert: North Korea could restart Yongbyon nuclear plant in six months to a year

April 2nd, 2013
06:28 PM ET

By Samuel Burke, CNN

After weeks of bellicose rhetoric, North Korea announced Tuesday that it will restart a nuclear reactor it had shut more than five years ago.

Siegfried Hecker, one of the world's most prominent nuclear scientists, was one of the last Western observers to visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex. He believes that the North Koreans could restart the plant within six months to a year.

“They would have to rebuild the cooling tower, they would also have to prepare the fresh fuel to put in, but in my opinion it could be done in six months to a year’s time,” Hecker told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview on Tuesday.

Hecker is the former director of United States' Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Amanpour reported from Yongbyon in 2008, which North Korean officials made a big show of shutting down – the cooling tower was blown up in front of television cameras.

She asked Hecker if the North Koreans had deceived the world at that time. FULL POST

Filed under:  Latest Episode • North Korea • South Korea

South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador: ‘War possible, but unlikely’

April 2nd, 2013
04:06 PM ET

South Korea’s Ambassador to the U.N. Kim Sook told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that a war with North Korea is “always possible, but at that moment whether it is practically possible: rather negative.”

Ambassador Kim said war is unlikely because South Korea has experienced this very situation many times in the past.

“The high level of rhetoric and this time around invectives – we have seen many times before,” Kim said. Though, the ambassador admitted that the level of this language and “slandering” – as Kim put it –is different this time around.

“But people in Seoul and by and large the South Korean people are not in panic, they don’t expect a war could happen anytime soon,” Kim said.

South Korea just elected a new President, Park Geun-hye, who is also the country’s first female president. Ambassador Kim dismissed the fact that she has been characterized as a largely untested leader, saying that new presidents have been tested before with these types of situations upon taking office in South Korea.

North Korea has made personal attacks against President Park, referencing her gender.

“The female president does not necessarily mean she is weak. She is politically very solid,” Kim said. Adding, “We leave nothing to chance.”

Ambassador Kim also emphasized that talking with their neighbors is still on the table.

“Dialogue is by and large the first and foremost way to engage North Korea,” he said.

Filed under:  Latest Episode • North Korea • South Korea

Pentagon: ‘North Korea may be dialing down’

April 1st, 2013
05:00 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

North Korea may be "dialing down" its latest provocation just a bit, a spokesman for the American military said on Monday.

"We haven't seen any kind of troop movements on the North Korean side that would indicate imminent military action," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

North Korea's provocations include the release of a photo last week showing leader Kim Jong Un looking at a map with military leaders – a map titled "U.S. Strike Plan," with multiple American cities targeted for attack.

Monday brought news, first, that the United States was sending F-22 fighter jets to the peninsula; then, that the United States is moving at least one warship closer to the North Korean coastline.

Little cautioned against reading too much into that move.

"We have regular ship movements in the Asia-Pacific region, and we use our ship movements for any number of purposes," he said. "So I'd be very careful about connecting this to recent tensions on the Korean Peninsula."

Filed under:  Latest Episode • North Korea

French FM on North Korea’s threats: ‘World needs China’s help’

March 11th, 2013
07:18 PM ET

North Korea’s government sounds more menacing by the day.

Last week the country threatened a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States. On Monday, North Korea said it will abandon the 60-year old armistice that ended the Korean War.

The South Korean government is worried, and now there are even calls for Seoul to develop its own nuclear arsenal.

In the video above, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour has an exclusive interview with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius about what the world must do to quell the threat from the Korean Peninsula.

Fabius says North Korea’s threat must be taken “very seriously,” but also believes the West must engage in “acute talks” with China, which he believes can play a key role in finding a solution.

Filed under:  Latest Episode • North Korea

Trying to make sense of North Korea’s belligerence

March 8th, 2013
11:18 AM ET

By Juliet Fuisz & Samuel Burke, CNN

If anyone thought last week's visit to North Korea by basketball star Dennis Rodman might have tempered Kim Jong-un's actions, Thursday’s broadside against the United States put an end to that notion.

The reclusive country threatened its enemies with the possibility of, "a preemptive nuclear attack." Even by North Korea’s bombastic standards, this was incredibly provocative.

Last month, Pyongyang had threatened to pull out of the armistice with the U.S. and South Korea that ended the Korean War back in 1953.

The international community reacted to this and especially to the North's third nuclear test last month, as it always does, with yet another round of apparently crippling sanctions. Though, this time Pyongyang's closest ally, China, is on board. But will it enforce them? And has China finally tired of its wayward ally?

In the video above CNN’s Christiane Amanpour puts those questions to Ambassador Christopher Hill, the former U.S. envoy to Seoul and the designated U.S. envoy to the North's nuclear file.

“They haven't been able to take a nuclear device and put it on a missile that we're aware of,” Hill told Amanpour. “There's no sign that they have any kind of deliverable nuclear device. So I would take this in the category of bombast.”

READ MORE: What do North Koreans think of nuclear tests?

Filed under:  Latest Episode • North Korea

What do North Koreans think of nuclear tests?

February 12th, 2013
06:27 PM ET

By Samuel Burke, CNN

When the former British Ambassador to North Korea, John Everard, told acquaintances in that country that he was travelling to the United States, they asked him if he thought he would make it out alive.

Such is the view of America in the Hermit Kingdom.  FULL POST

Filed under:  Latest Episode • North Korea

U.N. official: North Korea should get food aid

February 23rd, 2010
04:22 PM ET

To watch the full-length edition on North Korea, click here to get our podcast.

By Tom Evans; Sr. Writer, AMANPOUR.

Three days after North Korea declared it will not abandon its nuclear weapons program, a senior United Nations official who has just visited Pyongyang strongly defended international food aid to the so-called Hermit Kingdom.

"These are human beings that need the food. It's not the political system. This shouldn't be argued in a political way," U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Monday.

He said the United Nations is giving nutritional supplements to as many as 1.3 million of North Korea's 24 million people. But the U.N. World Food Programme has estimated that more than a third of the population needs food aid.

Pascoe, who earlier this month was the first top-level U.N. official to visit North Korea in six years, said, "There clearly is malnutrition at younger ages, so we're trying to help them with fortified food and up through the schools so that they can eat. There also was a very large program on immunizations for the children."

"Our problem is we don't have enough money coming in now to sustain some of those programs. ... But the truth of the matter is, we need to do more because these are people."

Pascoe insisted the United Nations can account for the food aid: "Our people believe they have a very clear idea of who's using the food, where it's going, and it's really for the good of the people who need it most."

He added that North Korean officials have talked a lot about wanting some kind of peace treaty that would formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, a conflict that concluded with an armistice.

But North Korea, in public at least, seems determined to maintain a hard line, refusing to rejoin six-nation talks on its nuclear program that it abandoned last year. Those talks also include South Korea, the United States, China, Russia, and Japan.

Last week, Pyongyang appeared to reject the idea of receiving economic aid in return for dismantling its nuclear program. The official Korean Central News Agency said the nation would not abandon nuclear weapons "unless the hostile (U.S.) policy toward (North Korea) is rolled back and the nuclear threat to it removed."

A leading expert on North Korea, Sung-Yoon Lee, an adjunct assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, said North Korea's real goal is to have a peace treaty that drives American troops out of the Korean Peninsula, which would "tilt the balance of power for the short term in North Korea's favor."

"They say this quite explicitly, that (their goal) is to build a communist state in the entire Korean Peninsula, and unless there should be any ambiguity, they do spell it out", he added. "They say that means roll back U.S. 'imperialist forces' from South Korea and end the U.S. 'colonial occupation' of South Korea."

Lee noted that no state with nuclear weapons has ever - for any economic or political rewards - bargained away nuclear weapons unless there was regime change.

But Lee said North Korea is an inherently unstable country that's on the precipice of economic collapse and whose leader is certain to pass.

"Kim Jong-Il is mortal. His time will come to an end," he said.

Filed under:  1 • North Korea
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