Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

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Nov 22nd, 2010

Scientist Says Low-Enriched Uranium Being Produced for New Reactor

Adm. Mullen calls North Korea ‘very dangerous’ country


N. Korea’s nuke facility ‘stunning,’ says scientist (MSNBC, Nov. 22, 2010) — NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski has the latest on the revelation that North Korea has built a new highly sophisticated facility to enrich uranium. (02:14)

Nov. 21, 2010

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday he worries that North Korea is advancing its potential nuclear capability toward “real life” after a scientist reported new activity in its atomic program.

The American nuclear expert who recently visited North Korea, Siegfried Hecker, says he was taken to a small industrial-scale uranium enrichment facility and told that low-enriched uranium was being produced for a new reactor.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer, said such activities would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and agreements by North Korea over its nuclear program.

“From my perspective, it’s North Korea continuing on a path which is destabilizing for the region. It confirms or validates the concern we’ve had for years about their enriching uranium, which they’ve denied routinely,” Mullen said. “They are a country that routinely we are unable to believe that they would do what they say.”

Noting the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March, which killed 46 sailors and has been blamed on North Korea, Mullen said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “all of this is consistent with belligerent behavior, the kind of instability-creation in a part of the world that is very dangerous.”

“They’re a very dangerous country,” he said on “This Week” on ABC. “I’ve been worried about North Korea and its potential nuclear capability for a long time. This certainly gives that potential real life, very visible life that we all ought to be very, very focused on.” …

Image: Siegfried Hecker
American nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, left, speaks to media upon returning from North Korea, at Beijing international airport in Beijing, China, on Nov. 13, 2010. North Korea has secretly and quickly built a new facility to enrich uranium, according to the American scientist, raising fears that the North is ramping up its nuclear program despite international pressure. (Photo credit: The Associated Press)


Related report

North Koreans unveil new plant for nuclear use
(David Sanger, New York Times, Nov. 21, 2010)

Image: Yongbyon nuclear complex in 2008 and 2010
This photo combination of two satellite images provided by DigitalGlobe shows on the left, in the black and white image, the Yongbyon nuclear complex in Yongbyon, North Korea, on Sept. 21, 2008. The image on the right was taken Sept. 29, 2010, and shows new construction activity, the Institute for Science and International Security says. (Photo credit: DigitalGlobe via AP)


Related reports on this site

Image: North Korean celebration
North Korean military officers celebrate the country’s second successful nuclear test at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium, on Tuesday, May 26, 2009. (Photo credit: KNS / AFP — Getty Images)

Winds of War in Korea (Nov. 25, 2010)

Perilous Flare-Up of Korean War (Nov. 24, 2010)

Kim Jong-un Succession in N. Korea (Oct. 11, 2010)

North Korea Threatens ‘Sacred War’ (July 23, 2010)

No Chinese Support on Cheonan Sinking (May 30, 2010)

North Korea Fraud Charge on Cheonan Sinking (May 28, 2010)

North Korean Saber-Rattling (May 20, 2010)

Iran, North Korea Threat Level Rises (Dec. 13, 2009)

North Korea Ready to Deal? (July 26, 2009)

Independence Day Missile Barrage (July 4, 2009)

North Korea Nuclear Threat (June 16, 2009)

Kim Jong Il Threat Assessment (May 31, 2009)

Tensions Rise in Korean Peninsula (May 30, 2009)

Tense Stand-off with North Korea (May 28, 2009)

North Korea Warns of Possible Military Action (May 27, 2009)

North Korea Launches Rocket (April 5, 2009)

U.S. Warns N. Korea on Missiles (Feb. 17, 2009)

Korea Headache Looms for Obama (Jan. 28, 2009)

Obama Faces Daunting Challenges (Nov. 6, 2008)


11/23/10 Update

North, South Korea Exchange Fire After Attack

2 South Korean soldiers killed in artillery barrage; Seoul vows ‘enormous retaliation’ if North opens fire again

Image: Smoke rises from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea
YTN television said up to 70 houses were on fire on Yeonpyeong, about 75 miles west of the capital Seoul. (Photo credit: Yonhap / AP)

NBC News’ Jim Miklaszewski, Reuters, and The Associated Press via
Nov. 23, 2010

SEOUL — North Korea bombarded a South Korean island with dozens of artillery shells Tuesday in one of the fiercest attacks on its neighbor since the Korean War ended in 1953.

South Korea’s military said two soldiers were killed, 17 were wounded and three civilians were also hurt after dozens of shells hit Yeonpyeong island.

Most of the shells landed on a South Korean military base there, YTN Television reported.

South Korea returned fire and scrambled F-16 fighter jets, military officials said.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said it was unforgivable for North Korea to fire artillery shells at ordinary people and warned any further North Korean attacks would be met by “enormous retaliation.” …

He had ordered officials to “sternly respond” to North Korea’s action but also called on officials to make sure that the “situation would not escalate,” according to a presidential official. …

YTN television said dozens of houses were on fire on Yeonpyeong, about 75 miles west of the capital Seoul.

‘Frightened to death’

The station broadcast pictures of thick columns of black smoke rising from the island. Screams and chaotic shouts could be heard on the video. YTN said between 1,200 and 1,300 people live on the island.

“Houses and mountains are on fire and people are evacuating. You can’t see very well because of plumes of smoke,” a witness on the island told YTN before the shelling ended after about an hour. “People are frightened to death.” …

Yeonpyeong, which houses military installations and a small civilian population, is located off the west coast of the divided peninsula near a disputed maritime border. The area has been the focus of two previous deadly battles between the Koreas.

South Korea responded by firing K-9 155 mm self-propelled howitzers, but a South Korean official declined to say whether North Korean territory was hit. …

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency claimed that South Korea fired first, Reuters reported.

North Korea later threatened to continue launching “merciless” strikes against South Korea if it violates their disputed sea border by “even 0.001 millimeter.”

The clash came amid South Korean military drills in the area.

North Korea’s military had sent a message to South Korea’s armed forces early Tuesday to demand that the drills stop, but the South continued them, according to an official at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. …

U.S. ‘strongly condemns’ attack

The White House said it “strongly condemns the attack” and called on Pyongyang to “halt its belligerent action.” …

The U.S. military has about 29,000 personnel stationed in South Korea. …

“The last thing we want to do ourselves is take any provocative actions. Nobody’s interested in escalating this right now,” a senior official told NBC News.

There was also concern that any increased U.S. military activity could lead to “a misinterpretation” by the North Koreans and an “inadvertent incident.”

China agrees restrained needed

The senior U.S. envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, said Tuesday that China and the United States agreed that North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island was “very undesirable” and restraint was needed. …

The two Koreas are still technically at war — the Korean War ended only with a truce — and tension rose sharply early this year after Seoul accused the North of torpedoing one of its navy vessels, killing 46 sailors.

The skirmish also follows high tension over North Korea’s claim that it has a new uranium enrichment facility and just over a month after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il unveiled his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his heir apparent. …

China is North Korea’s only major ally, and its economic and diplomatic support have been important to shoring up its otherwise isolated neighbor. Kim Jong Il visited China twice this year to strengthen ties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned of the “colossal danger” of an escalation in fighting on the Korean peninsula. …


Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University, described the incident as “unbelievable.”

“It’s reckless provocation,” Zhu said. “They want to make a big bang and force the negotiations back into their favor. It’s the oldest trick.”

The countries’ western maritime boundary has long been a flash point between the two Koreas.

The North does not recognize the border that was unilaterally drawn by the United Nations at the close of the 1950-53 Korean War.

North and South Korea have fought three bloody skirmishes near the maritime border in recent years, most recently in November 2009. …


North Korean attack leaves island ablaze (MSNBC “The Daily Rundown,” Nov. 23, 2010) — U.S. officials are calling the attack by North Korea “provocative and alarming,” but the U.S. military is doing nothing overt in response. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reports. (02:05)


12/17/10 Update

North Korean nukes: big fears, few facts

Longtime NBC News producer Bob Windrem explores what’s known and unknown about North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. This is a companion piece to his article published today on, “Deciphering clues to North Korea’s mysteries,” in which he analyzes possible reasons behind recent North Korean belligerence.


Nuclear expert Dr. Siegfried Hecker recently returned from North Korea and found their nuclear capability ‘stunning.’ He discusses North Korea with NBC’s Richard Lui. (06:26)
Companion story

Deciphering clues to North Korea’s mysteries
(Robert Windrem, Dec. 17, 2010)

Image: Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, left, is shown with his youngest son, Kim Jong Un at the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang on Oct. 10, 2010. (Photo credit: Kyodo / Reuters)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — November 22, 2009

Iraq War Plan Soon After 9/11

Image: Anti-war protesters
Anti-war protesters from the Stop the War group wear masks depicting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, right, former President George W. Bush, center, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left. They posed for photographers Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 outside the conference center where the Iraq war inquiry is taking place in central London. (Photo credit: Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

One year ago today, I reported that leaked British government documents call into question ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s public statements on the buildup to the Iraq war and show plans for the U.S.-led 2003 invasion were being made more than a year earlier, in February 2002, shortly after the attacks of 9/11.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — November 22, 2008

$2 Gas? Bad News.

Larger view
Michele Bachmann

Two years ago today, on Nov. 22, 2008, I noted that in the summer of 2008 U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed she could lower the price of gasoline to $2 a gallon in about two years by increased drilling, including offshore drilling and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; however, just a few months later the price at the pump dropped to nearly $2 in a matter of weeks, purely as a result of reduced demand during the economic recession.

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