Seoul, South Korea — North Korea said Thursday it was using plutonium extracted from some 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods to make atomic bombs, alarming South Korea and other Asian countries that feared the assertion would jeopardize efforts to resolve the nuclear dispute peacefully.
It was unclear whether the announcement was a sign North Korea has turned its back on the possibility of giving up its nuclear capabilities, or was an attempt to gain leverage ahead of any talks on the matter. The North has made similar provocative statements since the nuclear crisis started a year ago, but has engaged in two rounds of talks involving U.S. officials in Beijing since then.
"The (North) successfully finished the reprocessing of some 8,000 spent fuel rods," an unidentified spokesman from the communist nation's Foreign Ministry said in the statement carried by its official news agency, KCNA.
Later Thursday, the top U.N. envoy to the region met with a top North Korean diplomat and said North Korea was still committed to abandoning its nuclear program if the United States promised not to attack.
Maurice Strong met with Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon for about 30 minutes at the United Nations.
"He made it very clear that his government is committed to abandoning its nuclear weapons program, to subjecting itself to internationally agreed inspections and verification procedures, and that their primary concern is their security," Strong said.