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North Korea: A nuclear 7-Eleven?
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Feb 20, 2013

N. Korea says tourism 'booming'
Seoul (AFP) Feb 19, 2013 - Foreign tourism is "booming" in North Korea, state media said Tuesday a week after the country triggered global outrage by conducting its third nuclear test.

The number of foreign visitors to the North has grown steadily since 2000 and witnessed a surge after 2009, especially in the number of European visitors, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

"The global popularity of tourism to (North Korea) is booming," the agency said, without providing any breakdown on the number of visitors.

A range of "shining, socialist accomplishments" made under the leadership of the ruling Kim family have elevated North Korea's status and sparked interest in travelling to the country, KCNA said.

It did not mention if the "accomplishments" included its long-range rocket launch in December -- condemned as a disguised ballistic missile test -- or the February 12 nuclear test.

"Most tourists gave positive reviews about their experiences in (North Korea) on the Internet and other media ... and the range of travel routes is expanding," KCNA said.

North Korea's direct air links with other countries are extremely limited, with China the main conduit for most travellers heading to Pyongyang.

The state carrier, Air Koryo, also flies to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malaysia, Switzerland, Russia and Thailand, according to its website.

North Korea is not a cheap tourist destination, as the hard currency-strapped nation charges high prices for everything from beer to accommodation.

N. Korea's nuclear test heroes win Pyongyang trip
Seoul (AFP) Feb 20, 2013 - North Korea is rewarding the scientists and workers behind its recent nuclear test with a fun-packed visit to Pyongyang to enjoy "the greatest privileges", state media said Wednesday.

Scientists, technicians, workers and officials behind the February 12 test received a hero's welcome when they arrived in the capital, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

Residents turned out along the route with bouquets, banners and posters to give them a "hearty welcome".

"They will spend significant days in Pyongyang, enjoying the greatest privileges and preferential treatment," KCNA said, promising a "joyful and delightful time" at the city's open-air ice rink and roller skating centre.

The group will also visit the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which holds the embalmed bodies of North Korea's founder Kim Il-Sung and his son and former leader Kim Jong-Il.

North Korea's third nuclear test was its most powerful to date, with Pyongyang claiming a breakthrough with a "miniaturised" device.

While the outside world was united in condemnation, the test triggered days of orchestrated celebrations and mass rallies in North Korea.

The test followed a widely criticised long-range rocket launch in December, which the UN Security Council saw as a disguised ballistic missile test.

The North's current leader, Kim Jong-Un, awarded state medals and other benefits to the hundreds of scientists who worked on the rocket launch.

Experts differ about the scale and immediacy of the military threat posed by North Korea's latest nuclear test, but there is little disagreement about the alarming proliferation risks it presents.

The most pressing concern is that cash-strapped North Korea will become a one-stop shop, selling nuclear material, technology and even weapons to other countries, terror groups, or states seen as sponsoring terror.

And there is also a fear that the North's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes will prompt others in the region to reconsider their non-nuclear status, causing the entire non-proliferation regime to unravel.

North Korea has clear form as a proliferator, notably in the sharing of missile technology with Iran, but also in helping Syria build the nuclear reactor that was destroyed by Israeli warplanes in 2007.

"Nuclear terrorism is the thing we worry most about in the United States," said Robert Gallucci president of the MacArthur Foundation and a former US assistant secretary of state.

"The prospect that the North will sell highly-enriched uranium, nuclear weapons designs or even nuclear weapons to all comers, is not a happy thought if you live in one of America's cities," Gallucci told a nuclear security forum in Seoul on Tuesday.

A key unanswered question arising from the North's test on February 12 concerns the type of fissile material that was used.

South Korean, Japanese and UN monitoring efforts have so far failed to detect any tell-tale radioactive fallout, but many experts believe the North detonated a uranium device for the first time.

Its two previous tests in 2006 and 2009 had both been of plutonium bombs, and a confirmed switch to uranium would fuel proliferation concerns.

Highly-enriched uranium is seen as the "preferred currency" of rogue states and terror groups. It is the easiest fissile material from which to make a crude bomb and uranium enrichment technology can be readily transferred and sold.

"If the test turns out to have been uranium based then I think we are entering a whole new game in terms of proliferation risk," said Choi Kang, a security expert at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

"And it's a risk that extends the North Korea threat beyond the Korean Peninsula and beyond the Northeast Asian region," Kang said.

Iran features prominently among the list of North Korea's potential clients put forward by analysts, and there were numerous reports -- denied by Tehran -- that Iranian experts were on hand to observe last week's test.

Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, also notes that Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has been seeking nuclear weapons for more than a decade.

"In intelligence circles, North Korea is known as "Missiles 'R' Us," Allison wrote in a New York Times editorial.

With last week's test, North Korea was announcing it has "a new cash crop", Allison said, calling for an unequivocal US proliferation warning -- backed by the threat of force -- to North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un.

"The urgent challenge is to convince him and his regime's lifeline, China, that North Korea will be held accountable for every nuclear weapon of North Korean origin," he said.

The scenario that ends with the detonation of a "dirty bomb" in a city like New York invokes the conventional proliferation plot of selling and smuggling nuclear material.

But analysts also stress the threat that North Korea poses to the global non-proliferation regime simply by its existence as a de facto nuclear weapons state.

The North's latest test was its largest yet in terms of explosive yield and, according to Pyongyang, marked a breakthrough in its efforts to develop a "miniaturised" warhead that could fit on a ballistic missile.

The further the North progresses towards a genuine nuclear weapons capability, the louder the questions coming from its neighbours about the need for their own genuine deterrent.

In South Korea, a number of ruling conservative party lawmakers have already called for a debate on withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and embarking on a weaponisation programme.

"There a real danger of a domino effect here," said Lee Jong-Hoon, an international studies professor at Seoul's Yonsei University and a former National Security Council adviser.

"I think the message we should send to China is that it has to do more right now to prevent North Korea going any further," Lee told AFP.

"Otherwise the consequences might be a nuclear South Korea, a nuclear Japan and even a nuclear Taiwan. Is that what Beijing wants?"


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