SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States has evidence North Korea purchased equipment to enrich uranium, a key step in producing nuclear weapons, a U.S. envoy was quoted as saying on Saturday.
The United States in 2002 first accused the North of running a covert nuclear program by enriching uranium, a charge that triggered the demise of a 1994 deal to disarm the North’s nuclear arms program.
Despite North Korea’s denial of the existence of a uranium enrichment program, there is “credible evidence” of its purchase of equipment and materials that could be used for just that, U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
A U.S. embassy official in Seoul could not immediately confirm Hill’s comments, which he said were made at a privately arranged function at a university.
Hill said he was confident the North would fully clear up the suspicion by the end of the year, including questions about how the centrifuges and aluminum tubes it had bought were used.
North Korea has an abundant supply of natural uranium but not all the equipment or even a reliable source of electricity to run a large-scale enrichment program, experts have said.
North Korea has agreed with regional powers to disable its plutonium-based nuclear facilities by the end of the year in exchange for aid and an end to its international ostracism.
It has also agreed to present an inventory of all its nuclear activities. Hill has previously said the North’s declarations must come with no surprises or omissions.
Hill denied knowledge of North Korea’s sale of uranium enrichment equipment to Syria, as reported by the Washington Times on Friday.
Hill is scheduled to make his second trip to the North this year on Monday, which would include his first visit to the North’s Yongbyon nuclear complex.
Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jeremy Laurence