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Assessing the Nuclear Threat From N. Korea

January 19, 2003

Re "Accept Nuclear Reality on the Korean Peninsula," Commentary, Jan. 16: Bennett Ramberg acknowledges that North Korea will probably try to sell nuclear weapons to willing buyers, just as it presently sells missiles and allegedly drugs.

Ramberg states that the cornerstone of any agreement would be for the U.S. to have the right and duty to intercept any shipments of illicit nuclear weapons. Considering that nuclear weapons can be placed in suitcases or in diplomatic pouches, this interdiction would be problematic.

In 1981, Israel, fearing the consequences of a successful Iraqi nuclear program, destroyed the nuclear reactor at Osirak. For this preemptive action, Israel received universal condemnation. Only in the intervening years did the world come around to thank the Israelis for keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of a brutal dictator.

If diplomacy fails to halt the North Koreans from manufacturing nuclear weapons, then failing to destroy North Korea's nuclear facilities would have huge and possible catastrophic consequences, including Japan going nuclear.

Baillie Ellen Shapiro

Rancho Mirage

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Mansoor Ijaz and former CIA Director James Woolsey ("Cut Supply Lines That Fuel Pyongyang's Nuclear Dreams," Opinion, Jan. 12) claim that "plutonium reprocessing would allow the North Koreans to miniaturize nuclear cores for missile warheads -- or worse, to shape them into small tactical weapons for sale to terrorists on the black market." But reprocessing (extracting the plutonium from a reactor's fuel rods) is only one of the many steps, and an early one at that, needed to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

The United States invented plutonium reprocessing technology during World War II and used it to extract the fuel for the first nuclear bomb tested near Alamogordo, N.M., and for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. North Korea's program is at a similar stage of development. As the nickname of that 10,800-pound weapon -- "Fat Man" -- demonstrates, plutonium reprocessing and miniaturization do not go hand in hand.

Stephen Schwartz

Publisher, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Chicago

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Re "Bush Makes Tactical Shift on N. Korea," Jan. 15: The president will not negotiate with North Korea, but he will have talks. The president will not negotiate, but he will propose a new "bold initiative." The president will not negotiate, but he will send oil and food. The president will not submit to blackmail by North Korea -- he will bomb Iraq!

Saddam Hussein must be green with envy. If only Hussein did have nuclear bombs, maybe the president would "not negotiate" with him the same way the president will not negotiate with North Korea. Less and less like "1984"; more and more like "Alice in Wonderland."

Frank Robinson

Ridgecrest

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