US expert saw hundreds of centrifuges in North Korea

A US nuclear scientist saw hundreds of centrifuges in North Korea this month, sources familiar with the matter said on Saturday, buttressing the case that Pyongyang has a uranium enrichment program that would give it a second way to obtain fissile material for bombs.

One source said the expert, Stanford University’s Siegfried Hecker, was told by North Korean officials they had 2 000 centrifuges operating but the US team that visited the country was unable to verify that.

“But it certainly looked like an operating facility [to the US team],” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

North Korea has said it wants to return to stalled aid-for-disarmament talks but both Seoul and Washington have dismissed its pledges to denuclearise as insincere.

“Presumably, [Pyongyang’s nuclear programme has] taken a new turn. And presumably it’s taken the turn that we were hoping … it wouldn’t take and we were trying to forestall,” the same source said.

Even though it has exploded nuclear devices, North Korea has not shown it has a working nuclear bomb.

Stephen Bosworth, a US envoy responsible for policy toward North Korea, will visit Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing next week for consultations on North Korean issues, the State Department said on Saturday. – Reuters

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