Saturday, March 24, 2012

N. Korea, Iran Overshadow Nuclear Summit

World leaders including US President Barack Obama will launch a summit on the threat from nuclear-armed terrorists on Monday, but the atomic ambitions of North Korea and Iran are set to feature heavily.

North Korea's upcoming rocket launch has overshadowed the run-up to the two-day meeting in Seoul, which seeks agreement on locking down fissile material that could be used to build thousands of terrorist bombs.

Click here to continue. An especially chilling excerpt is set forth below.

The ACA [Arms Control Association] says there have been 16 confirmed cases of unauthorised possession of HEU or plutonium documented by the IAEA since 1993, mainly in the former Soviet Union.

Alexandra Toma of the Connect US Fund, which promotes nuclear non-proliferation, said a sophisticated extremist group could plausibly take advantage of such lapses.

"It takes only 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium to make a crude nuclear bomb" the size of a grapefruit, she told a Seoul forum Thursday.

Obama to Visit DMZ

President Obama plans to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea--the most heavily-fortified border in the world.

Barbed wire, watchtowers and land mines line the DMZ, while across the nearly 250 kilometer-long stretch of land, an estimated two million troops--one million on each side—stand ready to resume battle at anytime.

The DMZ was established in 1953 as part of the armistice agreement that ended combat in the Korean War. There has never been a peace treaty, and the two Koreas have remained in a formal state of war ever since.

Although it is considered one of the most dangerous places on Earth, the DMZ has seen only isolated incidents of violence. In one of the most well-known cases, in 1976, North Korean soldiers killed two U.S. soldiers who were escorting a Korean work force using axes to trim a tree. The North Koreans killed the Americans with the workers' own axes.

International observers monitor the cease-fire at the DMZ, while U.S. troops are stationed alongside the South Korean soldiers.

Popular Tourist Attraction

Despite the threat of tensions, the zone—particularly the Joint Security Area where North and South Korean forces stand face-to-face—is a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can get a glimpse of North Korean soldiers and an apparently uninhabited town, what is referred to as the North Korean “propaganda village.”

A VOA correspondent, Steve Herman, who has visited the area, says the tours are strict, from U.S. Army escorts to instructions on appropriate clothing, to warnings against pointing at anyone on the North Korean side.

“They get very upset," Herman says. "I mean, it's very hard when you see something over there in the North, and you're talking to someone you're with, and you say, 'Hey, look at that over there,' and you start to point. I mean, I've done that. And the soldiers admonish you pretty quickly about it."

Herman adds: "Another thing that you will sometimes notice is how the South Korean soldiers stand behind these blue buildings. They obscure half of their bodies so as not to be a prominent target for the North Korean troops, so that does give you some indication of how hazardous the duty is at the JSA and in the DMZ.”

The blue buildings belong to the U.S.-led United Nations Command. Tourists can go into one where the two sides have held negotiations. The building straddles the border, with the dividing line going straight through its negotiating table.

The zone has also become a common stop for U.S. presidents. When President Obama travels there for the first time on Sunday, he will follow in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.