NKorea enriching uranium for N-bombs: South

South Korea`s Foreign Minister has said this rebutting Pyongyang`s claims that it is for peaceful use.

Updated: Jan 13, 2011, 12:25 PM IST

Seoul: North Korea`s new uranium enrichment programme is designed to make nuclear weapons, South Korea`s Foreign Minister has said, rebutting Pyongyang`s claims that it is for peaceful use.

"I think it is part of an attempt to produce nuclear bombs on top of plutonium-based ones," Kim Sung-Hwan said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency published on Thursday.

The North raised regional security fears last November by revealing an apparently operational uranium enrichment plant to visiting US experts.

It says the plant will fuel an experimental light water reactor now under construction to generate electricity.

But senior US and other officials fear it could easily be reconfigured to produce weapons-grade uranium to augment the country`s existing plutonium stockpile.

The North quit six-party nuclear disarmament talks in April 2009 and conducted its second atomic weapons test a month later.

The forum, chaired by the North`s major ally China, also includes the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.

Kim said efforts to revive the negotiations have recently gained momentum. He said Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have "considerably narrowed down opinions" with Moscow also "getting there to some degree".

"China has slightly different opinions on the North`s stance so we have more to discuss (with Beijing)," the minister told Yonhap.

The North has indicated willingness in principle to return.

But the United States, Japan and South Korea say it must mend ties with the South and show seriousness about denuclearisation before discussions resume.

Cross-border ties have been icy since South Korea accused the North of mounting a torpedo attack on a warship, the Cheonan, last March with the loss of 46 lives. The North denies involvement in the sinking.

Tensions rose to their highest level for years when the North on November 23 shelled a South Korean border island, killing four people including civilians.

But in a change of tack this year, Pyongyang has been calling for dialogue.

Kim restated the South`s conditions for any dialogue, saying the North must take responsibility for the attacks and show commitment to nuclear disarmament.

"There should be some sort of responsible measures about the Cheonan`s sinking and the Yeonpyeong shelling. There should be a firm pledge that such provocations won`t be repeated and we also have to first make sure (the North) is serious about denuclearisation," he told Yonhap.

Bureau Report