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MOFAT Startled as WMD Commotion Follows Nuclear Controversy

MOFAT Startled as WMD Commotion Follows Nuclear Controversy

Posted September. 24, 2004 21:46,   


The government and all related departments are on full alert for diplomatic and military impacts following North Korea`s sodium cyanide acquisition.

As this sodium cyanide issue comes after the commotion over the uranium separation and plutonium extraction experiments, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) is worried about the damages it will cause on Korea`s image as a model nation that practices non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

An official said, "Because an export control system on strategic materials, such as the Australian Group (AG), handles highly classified information, not all countries are allowed to join the group and only the advanced nations with considerable trust from the international community may participate as members," and added, "I am afraid this might cause a decline in international trust of Korea."

The ministry, however, denied the suspicion accusing Korea of "intentionally hiding the fact of North Korea acquiring sodium cyanide that was reported to the AG in June," saying that it is a mistaken belief derived from inaccurate understanding.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry points out that the report given at the AG annual plenary session held last June was a different case in which the investigation authority was successful in deterring a North Korean trade company in its attempt to import South Korean sodium cyanide in May that had been exported to Thailand.

It has also been reported that the ministry has informed the member nations of the AG about this issue through a special information channel within the AG last year.

Meanwhile, officials from the Ministry of National Defense shared similar opinions in expecting that "the sodium cyanide exported to North Korea through China is most unlikely to have been put into making chemical weapons."

The gas-type chemical weapon that North Korea can produce from military use of sodium cyanide is tabun gas. Sarin gas, which was mentioned by certain media groups, needs sodium flouride (NaF), phosphorus chloride (PC13), and isopropanol (C3H7OH) as its major ingredients and has no real need for sodium cyanide.

An expert dealing with chemical, biological, and radiological studies at the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) said, "Although sodium cyanide is one of the ingredient for tabun gas, it is not a major ingredient," and added, "Also, since tabun has relatively low toxicity and is not lethal, the chance that it will be used in producing chemical weapons is slim."

The Ministry of National Defense said it is "difficult to make certain" whether tabun gas is one of the chemical weapon in possession by North Korea.

Hyong-gwon Pu Ho-Won Choi bookum90@donga.com bestiger@donga.com