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   Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis

Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2004

20 September 2004

TOKYO — The Bush Administration is now facing another huge nuclear embarrassment soon after its fiasco in Iraq. UN nuclear inspectors just caught South Korea, a very close US ally, enriching small amounts of plutonium and uranium to weapons grade.

This revelation comes when the Bush Administration's neoconservative hawks are clamoring for war against Iran over its unproven nuclear weapons program. These are same hawks who raised a hue and cry over Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

South Korea's six-year old program was far ahead of Iran's. Seoul used various deceptions to conceal its research from UN inspectors. North Korea, to no surprise, has been crowing over this embarrassing revelation, claiming its nuclear program has been justified.

This is the second time South Korea has been found secretly working on nuclear weapons. In the early 1970's, under the rule of strongman Park Chung Hee, the father of South Korea's economic miracle, CIA discovered a covert South Korean weapons program. Washington forced Gen. Park to shut it down.

This writer has reported for a decade that South Korea had continued a covert nuclear program. Japan, according to Asian intelligence sources, also developed a covert program capable of producing nuclear weapons in under three months. North Korea has between 2 and 9 nuclear warheads and missiles to deliver them over all Japan and as far as Hawaii and the US. This column believes Taiwan also likely has an advanced, clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Heightening tensions, a recent mammoth explosion in the far north of North Korea that reportedly produced a giant mushroom cloud with a 4-km diameter. The explosion coincided with the 56th anniversary of the founding of Stalinist North Korea and recent reports of heightened activities around that nation's nuclear installations. Could it have been a gigantic happy birthday bang for Beloved Leader, Kim Jong-il?

North Korea claimed the explosion was part of dam construction, which could well be the explanation. However, there are persistent rumors North Korea soon plans a nuclear test.

The US and South Korea were quick to deny the explosion was a nuclear test, suggesting an accident in a missile base or munitions depot. But nerves in North Asia were clearly rattled, most of all in Japan, whose long-discussed anti-missile system is still only in the planning stage.

The mysterious mushroom cloud comes soon after worrying intelligence reports North Korea is deploying two new ballistic missiles: a road-mobile missile with a 2,500-4,000 km range, and a ship or submarine-mounted version with a 2,500 range. Both are based on the by now retired Soviet R-27 (SS-N-6 ) submarine launched missile that carries a 200 kiloton nuclear warhead.

North Korea is reportedly working on ships and, possibly, a submarine design to bring the nuclear-armed R-27 missile within range of the continental US and all US bases in Asia. North Korea's 1-3 Taepo-dong ICBM's can already reach North America, according to CIA.

The fact that South Korea enriched uranium four times higher than Iran and clearly violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was dismissed by Washington, which accepted Seoul's unconvincing claim the extractions were only harmless laboratory tests by rogue scientists. The US also accepted the same lame excuse from Pakistan after it was caught red-handed selling nuclear technology.

George Bush's born-again cold warriors clearly have two standards for nuclear states. If they're US allies, like Israel, India, Japan, Pakistan, and South Korea, exposure of nuclear programs incurs only a few tut-tuts.

If the culprit is in Washington's black book, like Iraq or Iran, any accusations of nuclear delinquency are enough, as we have seen, to bring invasion or threats of war.

This would also apply to North Korea, except the tough northerners already have nuclear weapons that could be fired at South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Guam and Hawaii, where some 100,000 US military personnel are based.

Exposure of Seoul's nuclear ambitions undermines Washington's efforts to mobilize Japan, South Korea, China and Russia to compel North Korea to end its nuclear development, and it reinforces the `Beloved Leader's' determination to keep making nuclear weapons.

This raises a fundamental question. Why shouldn't South Korea have the right to nuclear weapons. Its neighbors — North Korea, China, and Russia — are nuclear powers. After all, nuclear weapons, as North Korea has shown, are the best guarantee against attack by superpowers.

If Washington winks at Israel's large nuclear arsenal, what right does it have to deny such weapons to South Korea, Japan, or Taiwan?

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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    Eric Margolis
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