'Intelligence Fiasco' Stirs Up the Korean Peninsula
Some in the South believe U.S. officials overstated the North's nuclear activities. The
flap roughly parallels the disputes over Iraq.
By Barbara Demick
Times Staff Writer
March 24, 2005
SEOUL — At a sensitive time
when the United States is trying to build a consensus on North Korea, South Koreans are in a furor over allegations
that Washington hyped intelligence about the North's nuclear activities.
The flap, which roughly parallels some of
the disputes over Iraq, concerns a trip by National Security Council officials through Asia this year to present evidence
to Chinese, Japanese and South Korean officials about North Korea's alleged role in supplying Libya with uranium hexafluoride.
The gas is used to make weapons-grade uranium.
In a Washington Post report Sunday, two U.S. officials were quoted as
saying the U.S. had covered up a key role played by Pakistan as middleman to bolster the case against North Korea as a dangerous
proliferator of nuclear material.
North Korea and Pakistan are known to have exchanged weapons technology for years,
so a transaction between them would not have been particularly shocking or new intelligence.
Fiasco," is how the English-language Korea Times referred to it in an article Wednesday. The conservative newspaper, Chosun
Ilbo, has demanded an investigation.
"If the U.S. administration really offered false information … Washington's
credibility and morality would be in tatters," the Chosun editorialized under the headline, "Did Washington Lie to Seoul?"
the South Korean government remained silent, the left-of-center ruling Uri Party issued a tough statement Tuesday accusing
the Bush administration of destabilizing the Korean peninsula with its "distorted" intelligence and "oppressive" policies
toward the North.
The State Department released a statement Tuesday in Seoul saying,
"The United States has not misled allies or anyone else about the matter."
South Korean experts who have reviewed the
U.S. evidence of a North Korean sale of uranium hexafluoride to Libya say it is a murky case.
For one, it is difficult
to determine whether the uranium hexafluoride that was turned over by Libya as part of its nuclear dismantling originated
in North Korea.
Even if it did, experts said, North Korea most likely had supplied the uranium hexafluoride to Pakistan
and the rogue network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, that country's top nuclear scientist, had sold it to Libya.
"It looks like
these were separate deals. North Korea supplied Pakistan. Pakistan supplied Libya. There is no evidence that North Korea knew
anything about Libya," said a South Korean official who asked not to be quoted by name.
The official called the Washington
Post story "70% correct."
He said the National Security Council's Asia director, Michael Green, who briefed South Korean
officials, did disclose the Pakistani involvement, but at the same time he "aggrandized" North Korea's culpability.
Libyans are believed to have acquired the uranium hexafluoride in 2001. North Korea has large reserves of natural uranium,
but it is unclear whether it has the technology required to produce the gaseous uranium hexafluoride.
one expert, a large shipment of uranium hexafluoride was impounded two years ago in China on its way to North Korea, presumably
for use in the North's own program to make highly enriched uranium. The incident implies that North Korea cannot produce its
In Vienna, scientists with the International Atomic Energy Agency have been testing the uranium hexafluoride turned
over by Libya, but have not yet made a determination about its origin.
"Tests have not shown anything indicating that
the uranium hexafluoride was from North Korea," a Western diplomat said.
Another Western diplomat said that a U.S.
investigation was more thorough, and that through a process of elimination, the American scientists had ruled out other possible
countries of origin for the gas.
North Korea announced Feb. 10 that it had developed nuclear weapons and that it would
no longer participate in six-country talks over dismantling them.
Many South Koreans are jittery about the Bush administration's
tough stance toward the leadership in Pyongyang, the North's capital. Along with the Chinese and Russians, they have been
trying to nudge the U.S. into opening a one-on-one dialogue with Pyongyang and laying out more clearly what the benefits would
be for the country if it were to dismantle its nuclear program.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week visited
Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing, in large part to rally support for the U.S. line on North Korea, reassuring the region that there
were no plans to attack the communist nation. But some of the gains from that trip might have been undone by the intelligence
"This is the last thing that the administration needs right now," said Daniel Pinkston, a nuclear expert with
the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. "It could really undermine U.S. credibility coming in the wake
of all the questions about Iraq."
Times staff writer Douglas Frantz in Zurich, Switzerland, contributed to this report.