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N. Korea claims to expand nuclear arsenal

A day after North Korea pressed the U.S. for one-on-one talks with a veiled threat of going "its own way", the communist regime issued a more direct threat, announcing Tuesday it has successfully weaponized more plutonium for nuclear weapons.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said in October his country could rejoin six-party nuclear talks, depending on the status of direct talks with the U.S. ((Korean Central News Agency/Associated Press))
A day after North Korea pressed the U.S. for one-on-one talks with a veiled threat of going "its own way," the communist regime issued a more direct threat, announcing Tuesday it has successfully weaponized more plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday North Korea had finished processing 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods, which experts say would provide enough weapons-grade plutonium for at least one more nuclear bomb.

North Korea is believed to already have enough weaponized plutonium for half a dozen nuclear weapons.

Though the claim itself has not been verified, its timing after the country's warning Monday suggests North Korea is hoping to remind the United States of its nuclear arsenal.

"North Korea is trying to show off its nuclear might as a way to pressure the United States to agree to the talks," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University.

North Korea's foreign ministry has called for one-on-one talks with the U.S. as a prerequisite to a return to multilateral talks with South Korea, the U.S., China and other regional powers aimed at getting it to give up its nuclear program.

"As the DPRK [North Korea] was magnanimous enough to clarify the stand that it is possible to hold multilateral talks including the six-party talks, depending on the talks with the U.S., now [it's] the U.S. turn," a foreign ministry told Pyongyang's official news agency on Monday.

"If the U.S. is not ready to sit at a negotiating table with the DPRK, it will go its own way."

N. Korea quit nuclear talks in April

North Korea agreed in 2007 to disable its nuclear facilities in exchange for aid and political concessions, but later abandoned the pact and halted talks in 2008.

U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy walk together at the Palais Roham in Strasbourg, France, in April. Sarkozy is sending an envoy to Pyongyang to try to inject new ideas into stalled negotiations between the U.S., North Korea and five other regional nations. ((Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press))

Earlier this year the country also conducted a nuclear weapon test — its second test since 2006 — and conducted banned missile tests. It quit nuclear disarmament negotiations in April, and has since insisted on separate talks with the U.S. before returning to the table.

North Korea has long sought direct negotiations with the U.S., believing it to be the easiest, quickest way to secure economic concessions needed to revive its economy while at the same time get assurances that its regime will be safe from attack.

Pyongyang has claimed it needs its nuclear arsenal to protect itself from U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. There are currently 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, where the United States has had some presence since the Korean war in the 1950s.

The administration of President Barack Obama has said bilateral talks with North Korea might be possible, but that they should be part of the six-nation process aimed at ending the North's nuclear programs.

France to enter discussion

Buoyed by its efforts in working on a deal with Iran's nuclear program, France announced Tuesday it would be sending an envoy to Pyongyang next week to see if they can help end the impasse.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy's envoy Jack Lang said he'll bring new ideas to the table, including the possibility of European aid to North Korea.

"We will discuss all the problems, the nuclear question naturally," Lang said. "I'm happy to be able to accomplish this mission for my country, for Europe and for peace."

With files from The Associated Press

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