US Warned Of 'Imminent' Nuclear Peril

By Shane Green in Tokyo
Louise Dodson in Canberra
The - Australia

Former United States Defence Secretary William Perry has warned that the US and North Korea are drifting towards war, with an "imminent danger" of nuclear explosions in American cities.

His chilling assessment of the communist state's nuclear program came as an increasingly worried China intervened, revealing a push for talks and sending a special envoy to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Mr Perry, in an interview with the Washington Post, warned that time was running out in the nuclear crisis. "I think we are losing control of the situation," said the Clinton-era defence chief.

He warned that North Korea could soon begin exporting nuclear weapons to terrorists and other adversaries of the US, posing "an imminent danger of nuclear weapons being detonated in American cities".

Referring to reports that North Korea had begun reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods to make weapons-grade plutonium, Mr Perry said: "I have thought for some months that if the North Koreans moved toward processing, then we are on a path toward war."

North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility has about 8000 spent fuel rods capable of producing enough plutonium to make between six and 12 nuclear weapons. South Korean intelligence reported last week that reprocessing had begun.

Mr Perry oversaw former US president Bill Clinton's plan for a military strike against the Yongbyon nuclear facility a decade ago. The strike was never carried out after a deal was reached with Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for energy aid.

The current crisis was triggered by North Korea's admission last October that it had a nuclear arms program.

Mr Perry said the US policy on North Korea was in disarray, with President George Bush to blame for an absence of negotiations. "I think he has come to the conclusion that Kim Jong-il is evil and loathsome and it is immoral to negotiate with him," Mr Perry said.

With the crisis deteriorating, it was revealed yesterday that China - a mentor of North Korea - had intervened with a compromise plan for talks.



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