Former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said Monday that North Korea may test a nuclear weapon by the end of this year, sparking “huge international ramifications.” “As a personal opinion I think you have an even chance of a nuclear device detonation by the end of the year, and that in the longer time it’s more likely than not that North Korea will detonate a nuclear device,” he told a forum in the South Korean capital.
“I think in their logic it’s the next rational escalation point,” Armitage said in response to a question from the audience.
“Clearly, this will have huge international ramifications.”
In response, Armitage said, he would expect US President George W. Bush to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to consult other countries involved in six-nation talks on North Korea, and simultaneously to take the issue to the United Nations.
“I personally think that if North Korea were to do that (conduct a test), then the United States should move more forces into the area … to make it clear to North Korea that each time they provoke, they find themselves in a less advantageous military situation.”
The six-nation talks, involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, are aim at persuading Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits and security guarantees.
They have been suspended since November when the North boycotted them in protest at US financial sanctions.
In July the communist state test-fired seven missiles and there have been reports it is preparing a nuclear test.
North Korea declared in February 2005 that it had built nuclear weapons but is not known to have conducted any tests.
South Korea To Build Firing Range After US Ultimatum
Seoul (AFP) Sept 25 – South Korea has agreed to equip a firing range for US aircraft, days after a top US commander warned that its warplanes would be moved out of the country unless the project goes ahead.
The defence ministry said Monday that construction of an electronic weapons scoring system for US bombing and firing exercises could start immediately on Jik island, 70 kilometers (42 miles) off the southwestern port of Gunsan.
“Construction will begin today. We aim to complete it this year,” Brigadier General Choi Jong-Il told reporters.
The plan will be explained during security talks with the United States in Washington this week, he said.
The talks, called the Security Policy Initiative (SPI), are the main consultation channel between the two allies to hammer out changes to their military alliance.
Gunsan city mayor Moon Dong-Sin said the plan was approved in return for financial aid from the ministry estimated at 300 billion won (312 million dollars).
“We have accepted the ministry’s request as it will contribute to security as well as economic development in our region,” Moon told reporters.
Under a mutual defense pact, South Korea should provide training facilities for some 29,500 US service personnel stationed here to help the nation’s troops face up to North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong army.
But protests from local residents delayed the planned range at Jik.
The US closed its firing range at Maehyangri, 60 kilometers southwest of Seoul, in August last year following years of bitter anti-US protests.
Lieutenant General Garry Trexler, deputy head of US troops here, told a forum last week that the delay had forced US pilots to go abroad for firing exercises.
He reportedly warned that the United States would move its jet fighters out of the Korean peninsula unless Seoul offers the new firing range within a month.
“I think we are very close in coming to closure on this issue but if it’s not done within the next 30 days, we’ll be forced to send aircraft which are critical to the deterrence of this peninsula off this peninsula,” Trexler was quoted as saying.
The warning was construed by local media as an ultimatum to South Korea ahead of high-level security talks in Washington next month.
Seoul is in talks with Washington to regain wartime operational control over South Korean troops by 2012, a major change in the alliance which dates back to the 1950-1953 Korean War.
South Korea would currently put its troops under the US-led Combined Forces Command if war broke out on the peninsula.
The issue has split society. Supporters of President Roh Moo-Hyun say the transfer is a matter of national pride, while conservative opponents fear it will weaken defences against North Korea — a self-proclaimed nuclear-armed state.