N.Korea's Curious Relationship with U.S. Nuclear Expert

      December 09, 2010 07:27

      Siegfried Hecker /Yonhap

      Dr. Siegfried Hecker, who shot to international prominence after visiting a North Korean uranium enrichment facility in mid November, is a senior figure in the U.S. nuclear academic community and now co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University after serving at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

      North Korea has invited Hecker at several critical moments since 2002, when the second nuclear crisis erupted -- five times in all. On each occasion the North rolled out the red carpet and gave him exceptional access to its nuclear program, showing him plutonium samples and nuclear facilities. "It's a tactic to boost the North's negotiation power by showing off its nuclear capabilities to a scientist and making it a fait accompli through the media," said a diplomatic source.

      The U.S. government is said to be wary of Hecker's visits to North Korea, even though it uses the information he provides. The U.S. government worries that Hecker's reports damage its negotiating power because he is likely to be shown only the parts of the truth the North wants him to see. "I don't think Washington's North Korea policy has changed fundamentally as a result of Hecker's visits," said a government official.

      Hecker's first visit to the North came in January 2004 immediately after Pyongyang said it was reprocessing 8,000 used fuel rods. Hecker subsequently testified before Congress that the North showed him it has industrial capacity, equipment and technical knowhow to extract plutonium.

      After a visit in November 2006, immediately after the North's first nuclear test, Hecker reported that Pyongyang has "six to eight" nuclear weapons from extracting plutonium and that the nuclear test was successful.

      In August 2007 and February 2008, when the Yongbyon nuclear facilities was first disabled and then reactivated, the North again invited Hecker to tour the complex.

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