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North Korea’s artillery attack spotlights its nuclear program

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North Korea’s bombing Tuesday of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong undermines the Obama administration’s insistence that the North’s new uranium enrichment facility has not created a crisis for the world. An unprovoked artillery attack by the communist country against its democratic neighbor is the very definition of a crisis.

South Korea, which returned fire and dispatched fighter jets, warned that it would retaliate with massive force if the North does not cease its provocative action.

The attack came just days after the New York Times revealed that the communist regime had built a vast new uranium enrichment plant. The story was based on an interview with American nuclear scientist Siegfried S. Hecker, who was given a tour of the facility by the North Koreans. Hecker is a Sanford University professor and former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory,

The scientist’s report of what he had seen and his assessment of North Korea’s future nuclear capability as a result of the uranium enrichment plant sent shock waves through all the major capitals of the world.

Hecker told the Times he was “stunned” by the sophistication of the new facility, where he saw “hundreds and hundreds” of centrifuges that had just been installed. He said the North Koreans told him they had 2,000 centrifuges already installed and running.

And that raises an important question: How did dirt poor North Korea, where the 23 million people live on less than $1,000 a person under a brutal dictator, get the technical know-how and construction expertise to build such a state-of-the-art plant?

All signs point to Iran, which has become the leading sponsor of international terrorism. Iran has emerged as the main supporter of militant groups battling American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is pursuing various nuclear capabilities, but says it is only interested in utilizing them for peaceful purposes.

If it is proved that Iran assisted North Korea in building the enrichment plant, then the administration of President Barack Obama and other western powers must decide how to respond.

Pakistani connection?

There also is the possibility that the technical expertise of A.Q. Khan, who was responsible for Pakistan becoming a nuclear power, was transferred to North Korea.

The United States must determine if there was any sharing of information or material by Pakistan with Pyongyang. Why is that important? Because Pakistan is America’s leading ally in the battle against global terrorism.

The country’s intelligence agency has long been viewed with suspicion because some its officers are sympathetic to the Islamic extremists who want to turn Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan into theocracies like the one in Iran.

The fact that the world’s leading terrorist, Osama bin Laden, and members of his inner circle have eluded capture or death while hiding out in the mountain regions of Pakistan has fed the suspicion about the intelligence service.

The implications of North Korea being helped by America’s ally and by its chief enemy to develop nuclear weapons are enormous.

There is cause for concern.