The United States accused North Korea of being a danger to the region after it showed off its latest advances in uranium enrichment but its envoy said on Monday Washington was open to talks with the isolated state. The reported sighting of over a thousand centrifuges at its main nuclear complex appears to confirm that the impoverished North is on the way to creating a second source of weapons-grade nuclear material.
It comes just as Pyongyang is pressing regional powers to resume talks on its atomic weapons program — about the only real leverage it has with the outside world. “It is the latest in a series of provocative moves by the DPRK … it is a very difficult problem we have been struggling to deal with for 20 years,” U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth told reporters in Seoul, referring to the North by its acronym. “This is not a crisis, we are not surprised,” said Bosworth, who is on the first leg of a tour of east Asia. The North’s reported nuclear advances come nearly two months after Kim Jong-il started the transition of power to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. Analysts say he also wants to use nuclear muscle to boost his son’s credentials with the military. Washington is particularly worried by the threat of North Korea — whose ravaged economy has long relied heavily on arms exports — selling nuclear weapons material to other states. It has conducted two nuclear tests to date and is believed to have enough fissile material to make several nuclear warheads. The North has said it wants to resume multilateral talks, but Washington and Seoul have said they will only consider return to the negotiating table when Pyongyang shows it is sincere about denuclearization. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the notion the enrichment program might be for energy production, saying North Korea had a nuclear arms program for some time and probably had a number of nuclear devices.