N Korea's nuclear strength grows in isolation

N Korea's nuclear strength grows in isolation

SEOUL - If the international community's main goal is to push North Korea towards denuclearisation, does the fact that Pyongyang is racing in precisely the opposite direction suggest a fundamental policy failure?

The question has taken on added urgency following a succession of monthly warnings sounded by satellite imagery analysis that the North's nuclear weapons programme is gathering pace.

In August, images suggested the North had doubled its uranium enrichment capacity at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

In September, they indicated it had re-started the plutonium reactor that provided the fissile material for at least two of its three nuclear tests, and just last week they pointed to preparatory work for another detonation at its nuclear test site.

"Pyongyang is moving ahead on all nuclear fronts," believes US nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, a leading expert on the North's weapons programme.

Since coming to power in late 2011 following the death of his father, North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-Un has overseen a successful long-range rocket launch and the North's third -- and largest -- nuclear test.

"Denuclearisation must remain the goal, but it is a more distant one following these new developments," Hecker wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

If there is clear agreement on where the North is heading, there is little consensus on how best to stop it getting there.

The key question for the international community is the same as it has always been -- whether to engage with Pyongyang or not.

Both North Korea and its main ally China want a return to six-party talks grouping China, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Washington and Seoul are adamant that Pyongyang must first demonstrate a commitment to denuclearisation, but the North has repeatedly stated it has no intention of abandoning its weapons programme.

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