OK. End self-referential throat-clearing. Here’s the bad news about this morning’s newspaper.
What the North Koreans Said
Yesterday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry released another milestone “statement” via KCNA. This one comes in response to the passage of UNSCR 1874 on Friday. As of this writing, the official English translation is not yet up on the site, but Reuters has gotten ahold of the text.
Update: the official text is now online.
(This is a media-criticism post. I’ll tackle the implications of the statement later, time permitting.)
The statement announces three North Korean “countermeasures” to the Security Council’s resolution, which can be summarized as follows:
- “Weaponizing” plutonium that North Korea now claims to have already reprocessed from its current bunch of spent fuel rods.
- Commencing uranium enrichment on an “experimental” basis, in connection with fueling a light-water reactor, as yet not built.
- A “decisive military response” and “all-out confrontation” against any “attempted blockade” of the DPRK by “the U.S. and its followers.”
Got it? For your reference, again, the text is here. I’ll put it in the comments, too.
So why can’t the Washington Post get the story straight?
Sorry, Guys, You Blew It
There’s already so much confusion and mythology out there about North Korea’s activities in the field of uranium enrichment (to say nothing of uranium conversion). Why does the Post have to add to it with this rhetorical flourish in the lede?
bq.. TOKYO, June 13—North Korea adamantly denied for seven years that it had a program for making nuclear weapons from enriched uranium.
But on Saturday, a few hours after the U.N. Security Council slapped it with tough new sanctions for detonating a second nuclear device, the government of Kim Jong Il changed its tune, vowing that it would start enriching uranium to make more nuclear weapons.
Let’s compare this directly with the relevant section of the NK FM statement, via Reuters:
Second: The process of uranium enrichment will be commenced. Pursuant to the decision to build its own light-water reactor, enough success has been made in developing uranium enrichment technology to provide nuclear fuel to allow the experimental procedure.
Do you see any reference to making uranium-based nuclear weapons there? I sure don’t. At best, that’s an inference by the Post. Maybe it’s warranted. But the DPRK “vowed” no such thing. This is just plain bad reporting, based on careless reading.
The part of the NK FM statement about the uranium came right after the part about weaponizing plutonium, so it’s not hard to see where the confusion started. But the same Post story discusses the history of the uranium issue at some length, and even quotes part of the relevant excerpt of the NK FM statement above. There’s just no excuse.
How the Others Did
The New York Times did somewhat better:
In a statement on the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, an unidentified spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying that his nation would continue its nuclear program to defend itself against what he called a hostile United States policy. He was quoted as saying that his nation would “weaponize” its existing plutonium stockpiles and begin a program to enrich uranium, which can also be used to make atomic warheads.
Yes, this wraps up the plutonium and uranium issues together, and does not mention the LWR angle, which could be misleading. But it contains little that can be called inaccurate. (The statement said that that NK would “commence” enrichment, but also said that the development of technology has been underway for an unspecified time, so “begin a program” does not seem quite right.)
The NYT also noticed that this part of yesterday’s statement echoes one from late April. That’s something else the WP
got wrong appears to have missed.
This other AP story by Hyung-Jin Kim got it right about the LWR angle, wrong about the novelty of the statement:
In Saturday’s statement, North Korea said it has been enriching uranium to provide fuel for its light-water reactor. It was the first public acknowledgment the North is running a uranium enrichment program in addition to its known plutonium-based program. The two radioactive materials are key ingredients in making atomic bombs.
Sorry to drag on like this, but I’m really frustrated by the bad reporting. Can you tell?
On a Happier Note
The Washington Times got it pretty much straight:
The news agency quoted an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying that Pyongyang would start a program to enrich uranium for a light-water reactor.
As in the case of the NYT, one could quibble about the word “start.” Regardless, I’m awarding to Desikan Thirunarayanapuram of the Washington Times the inaugural TW Prize for Largely Accurate Reporting About North Korea. Congratulations, Desikan.