North Korea Will Not Be Accepted as Nuclear State

luvsmiling, April 24, 2015, 8:23 a.m.

The United States and its partners in the nuclear talks with North Korea won't accept the communist nation as a nuclear state, a senior American diplomat said Thursday, as China reportedly increased its assessment of Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that China's top nuclear experts now estimate the North has already 20 warheads and is capable of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double its arsenal by next year. American experts have recently estimated the North's current arsenal at some 10-16 bombs.

"We certainly have been and remain concerned about North Korea's nuclear program. And we've been working with the five parties, as we've talked about, to pressure North Korea to return to credible and authentic denuclearization talks," State Department acting spokeswoman Marie Harf said in response to the report.

By the "five parties," she was referring to the five countries involved in the six-party nuclear talks with the North.

Asked if the Chinese assessment raises alarm, Harf said, "We've had alarms for a long time about North Korea's nuclear program. A very high level of alarm. That's why we have worked with our partners to see what we can do to get them back to the table.

The six-party talks, which involve China, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the U.S., have been stalled since the last session in late 2008. During the deadlock, the North has kept bolstering its nuclear capabilities, conducting its second and third nuclear tests, in 2009 and 2013.

Some experts now warn that the communist nation's nuclear arsenal could expand to 100 bombs by 2020. Earlier Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said the North won't be accepted as a nuclear state.

"Our partners, along with the wider international community, have consistently made clear to the DPRK that it will not be accepted as a nuclear power," he said in a statement submitted for a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, saying the five-party unity "has never been stronger."

Russel also said U.S. alliances with South Korea and Japan form the "bedrock" of the six-party process and hailed December's trilateral information-sharing agreement to better cope with the North's nuclear and missile threats.

On economic issues, Russel said the envisioned Asia-Pacific free trade deal, known as Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the U.S. has been negotiating with 11 other countries, is the "economic centerpiece of our rebalance" to the region.

"The most important thing we can do for our economic relationship with East Asia is to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which is also critical to the future of our economy as it becomes increasingly linked to the region," he said.

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