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North Korean Nuclear Program Threatens Non-Proliferation Treaty, says Arms Control Expert

(Washington, DC--September 3, 2003) The world is facing its most serious challenge to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty since the treaty came into existence in 1972 because of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, according to an expert in the field who spoke at a RFE/RL briefing last week.

Henry Sokolski, the Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said the world has to decide whether it is going to enforce the provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Sokolski said that it would be, in effect, the "end of the treaty," if a country can "cheat under the treaty, then withdraw and not be punished."

In the early 1990s it seemed that the treaty was truly successful, since a number of countries, such as South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine, Argentina and Brazil, stopped their nuclear programs. Yet North Korea, which had signed the document in 1985, did not comply with the agreement’s provisions and continued their plutonium production and uranium enrichment programs. Now it has declared its intention to formally withdraw from the treaty, and may already possess several nuclear bombs.

Sokolski emphasized that North Korea’s proliferation activity "is not just a regional problem." The four of Pyongyang’s neighbors (South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan) already have considerable stockpiles of plutonium from their power-generating nuclear plants. If North Korean leaders believe their country is endangered he said, they could further expand their nuclear weapons stockpile.

Iran, meanwhile, is watching closely the world’s reaction to North Korean developments, as it has a program of its own, Thus, Sokolski said, it is essential for the United States to practice a “coherent” policy towards North Korea and Iran.

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