A South Korean official released an estimate of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, saying the country maintains as many as 60 nuclear weapons.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon responded to a lawmaker’s question at parliament on Monday, saying that intelligence data shows that North Korea holds between 20 and 60 nuclear weapons, according to a CBS News report Tuesday.
North Korea is estimated to have up to 60 nuclear weapons, a top South Korean official says https://t.co/K0bGuKTcoV
— Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) October 3, 2018
The remark is South Korea’s first public comment on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, leading some to believe he may have unintentionally released the information. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service did not comment on his remarks.
Reports by the South Korean government have estimated North Korea’s plutonium production activities yielded at least 110 pounds, enough to produce eight bombs. Nuclear physicist Siegfried Hecker and other Stanford University experts estimated that North Korea also maintains 550 to 1,100 pounds of highly enriched uranium, enough to produce 25-30 nuclear weapons.
In August, the International Atomic Energy Agency assessed North Korea’s nuclear activities using satellite imagery, and concluded that ongoing nuclear activities were “a cause for grave concern.” The agency also determined that the activities were in violation of U.N. resolutions.
North Korea is also believed to be hiding other facilities where uranium enrichment takes place.
Still, the Trump Administration maintains that nuclearization talks have been going well, although a timeline for complete denuclearization cannot be established.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to visit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday in Pyongyang, where the two will continue denuclearization talks.
Both President Trump and Pompeo confirmed that North Korea is willing to allow inspectors in the country to verify denuclearization through inspections of nuclear facilities. Pompeo noted they are working toward putting that in action.
Kim himself has reiterated his commitment to denuclearization, even saying North Korea would do so before the end of President Trump’s first term, as Reuters reported last month. However, he has also specifically mentioned the dismantlement of facilities, but not of relinquishing their nuclear arsenal.
North Korea’s Kim says wants to denuclearize in Trump’s first term: Seoul https://t.co/J9yTKnV7c4
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) September 6, 2018
In August, North Korea rejected a timeline proposed by the U.S. suggesting that they relinquish “60 to 70 percent of its nuclear warheads within six to eight months.” The timeline was rejected several times, and a North Korean official indicated that giving up the “precious legacy” of nuclear weapons was akin to “death.”
President Trump and Pompeo have asserted that the media is unaware of the positive progress made in closed meetings with North Korea.
Although missile testing has stopped and North Korea has dismantled some of their nuclear facilities, it’s unclear whether “denuclearization” will include giving up their nuclear arsenal – and whether or not that is achievable.