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IAEA Chief Doubts S. Korean Arms Plans
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 9, 2004; Page A27
TOKYO, Oct. 8 -- The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Friday that South Korea's recently disclosed work with uranium and plutonium did not appear to be part of a weapons program, describing it as "simply two scientific experiments on a small scale."
"I don't think we have seen any intentions to develop nuclear weapons" by South Korea, the director general of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, told reporters in Tokyo after completing an official trip to the South Korean capital, Seoul. "What we have seen are experiments that have to do with separation of plutonium and making uranium. These experiments by themselves are not illegal."
Mohamed ElBaradei calls Seoul's research "experiments on a small scale."
But ElBaradei suggested that the work, disclosed by the South Koreans last month, should have been reported to the IAEA earlier. South Korea's failure to report it promptly, some nuclear experts say, could constitute a violation of international law.
South Korean officials have maintained that the work was purely scientific in nature and not linked to weapons research. In addition, they said that though the work was conducted by government scientists, it was performed without the knowledge or approval of higher-level officials.
North Korea has cited the South Korean disclosures in an attempt to blunt international pressure to force it to abandon its nuclear programs. This week, North Korea continued that campaign through its official KCNA news service, insisting that IAEA officials were "downplaying the gravity" of South Korea's actions. ElBaradei, however, said the situations in the two Koreas were "not comparable."
Regardless of what Washington and Beijing want, and even though it is not yet inevitable, the chances that South Korea and/or Japan might go nuclear in coming years has risen substantially of late. While the US is busy fighting a global "war on terrorism", it may find that the emergence of a nuclear Northeast Asia - and the emergence of independent new powers in South Korea and Japan - does more to undermine its global hegemony than the ongoing insurgency in Iraq and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions. - Emphasis mine.