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North Korea Claims Major Advance in Nuclear Program

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North Korea has declared a major advance in its nuclear program a week after launching a deadly artillery strike on a South Korean island.

North Korean state media said Tuesday the country has a new uranium enrichment plant with thousands of working centrifuges and a light-water reactor that is currently under construction. They said both facilities are designed for peaceful energy use.

North Korea first disclosed the projects to a visiting American scientist earlier this month. Experts say the uranium enrichment plant could be another vehicle for North Korea to make nuclear weapons in addition to its known plutonium-based weapons program.

North Korea's claims about the new facilities could not be independently verified.

Some analysts say North Korea's recent nuclear revelations and shelling of Yeonpyeong island are designed to pressure regional powers into resuming talks on providing aid to Pyongyang in return for ending its nuclear weapons program.

The foreign ministers of the United States, Japan and South Korea plan to meet in Washington next week to consider a response to the North Korean moves.

China has urged the three allies to agree to its proposal for an emergency meeting next month in Beijing of all six nations involved in North Korean nuclear negotiations. The talks also would involve North Korea, China and Russia.

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said Tuesday North Korea must make progress in implementing previous agreements to end its nuclear weapons program before more six-party talks are held. He said he instructed Japanese envoy Akitaka Saiki to deliver that message to China during talks Saiki held with Chinese envoy Wu Dawei in Beijing Tuesday.

Meanwhile, U.S. and South Korean warships held a third day of naval drills in the Yellow Sea Tuesday in a show of strength to deter North Korean attacks.

North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong last Tuesday, killing four South Koreans on an island near the disputed western maritime boundary of the two Koreas.

Pyongyang said it was retaliating for a South Korean exercise that involved artillery fire from the island into surrounding waters that it claims are North Korean. South Korean forces responded within minutes to that attack by shelling North Korean positions across the maritime border.

Both Koreas have warned of severe retaliation for further provocations.

Article by VOA News