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    N.Korea developing nuke warhead: Seoul official

    AFP
    08.10.2008 - 11:48 | Son Güncelleme:

    North Korea is working to develop a nuclear warhead for a long-range missile, South Korea's top military officer said Wednesday, a day after the communist state tested its short-range weaponry.

    "I understand that North Korea is working to develop a small nuclear warhead which can be loaded into a missile," Kim Tae-Young, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was quoted by Yonhap news agency as telling legislators.

     

    Kim said he could not say whether the North had already succeeded in developing such a warhead. His office confirmed the comments.

     

    North Korea, which has been pursuing a nuclear program for decades and tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, is long thought to have been trying to produce a nuclear warhead.

     

    But public confirmation by a top Seoul official is unusual.

     

    The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was also quoted as saying the North could make six or seven warheads, given an estimated plutonium stockpile of 40 kilos (88 pounds).

     

    Two years ago, Seoul’s then-defense minister Yoon Kwang-Ung said the North was believed to be developing nuclear warheads for its missiles but needed "a few more years" before it could produce them.

     

    A six-nation nuclear disarmament deal is currently close to collapse, with the North vowing to soon resume the processing of bomb-making plutonium.

     

    Top U.S. Negotiator Christopher Hill visited Pyongyang last week and reported "very substantive" talks, but no details have emerged.

     

    On Tuesday, the North test-fired short-range missiles into the Yellow Sea.

     

    A South Korean defense ministry official called the launches "part of routine military exercises" but gave no details.

     

    Local media reports say one or two missiles were fired -- either surface-to-ship KN-01 or KN-02 types or Russian-designed ship-to-ship Styx.

     

    The North has carried out such short-range launches many times before, but analysts say they are sometimes timed to make a political point.

     

    The disarmament deal is deadlocked because of a dispute over verification of the North’s nuclear program.

     

    The secretive communist state is angry at a U.S.-inspired verification plan which reportedly calls for it to open up undeclared suspected nuclear facilities and to let inspectors take samples of material.

     

    The North has hundreds of short-range missiles, many of which are stationed close to the border within easy striking range of Seoul.

     

    It has also developed long-range weaponry capable of threatening countries outside the Korean peninsula. In 1998 it test-launched a Taepodong-1 missile which overflew Japan, sparking alarm in Tokyo.

     

    A Taepodong-2 was test-launched in July 2006 from the same site at Musudan-ri on the east coast but failed.

     

    A news report last week said the North was upgrading the site in preparation for a test-launch of a new long-range missile.

     

    South Korea's Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said intelligence authorities believe the North is preparing to test-fire an advanced model of the Taepodong-2 which could theoretically hit parts of the U.S. west coast.

     

    It said the modified model would have a range of 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) compared to 6,700 kilometers currently.

     

    In September South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-Hee confirmed U.S. reports that the North is building a new launch site for long-range missiles on its west coast.

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