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World News

Q+A - What are possible responses to N.Korea's nuclear advances?

SEOUL (Reuters) - The reported sighting of more than 1,000 centrifuges at North Korea’s main nuclear complex appears to confirm it is working to create a second source of arms-grade nuclear material.

The secretive North, which has a plutonium-based atomic programme, unveiled a uranium enrichment facility to an American nuclear scientist earlier this month, saying it is intended to provide electricity for the energy-starved state.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the notion the enrichment programme might be for energy production, saying North Korea has had a clear arms programme for some time and probably had a number of nuclear devices.

IS NORTH KOREA BREAKING ANY RULES?

North Korea has made no secret of its interest in uranium enrichment over the years, and Washington has said for eight years Pyongyang had such a programme.

But news of its sophistication caught many by surprise. Analysts say the North could not have acquired the materials and technology without violating international sanctions. The United States and its allies say the North is in violation of a substantial number of international agreements that it has entered into and of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

DOES THIS MEAN MORE SANCTIONS?

A South Korean foreign ministry official said given the breach of existing sanctions, it would be possible to impose new sanctions and that this was being discussed by key countries. But new sanctions are unlikely. Even with the most stringent sanctions to date in force, North Korea was still able to construct the new plant.

Mainly, there have been calls to redouble efforts to apply existing U.N. sanctions.

WHAT ARE THE OTHER OPTIONS?

U.S. Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has called for North Korea to be re-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. Washington removed Pyongyang from the list two years ago as a reward for actions on one component of its nuclear activities.

The United States is leading international calls for China, as the North’s main ally and major benefactor, to lean on Pyongyang to change its belligerent behaviour. But Beijing says this is a dispute between the United States and North Korea, and it is up to them to figure it out.

WHAT IS THE LIKELIHOOD OF A U.S. MILITARY STRIKE?

Analysts widely agree this is not a viable option.

AND WHAT ABOUT DIALOGUE, WILL THAT HELP?

Analysts say the only solution is diplomatic engagement. What form this takes has been the subject of debate between the regional powers for months. The United States, Japan and South Korea are standing firm on their demands that the remit of six-party talks -- the denuclearisation of North Korea -- is the primary objective. China and Russia are less adamant, saying talks for talks-sake are most important. North Korea essentially wants talks on the basis it is recognised as a nuclear power.

Many analysts say it is important to at least sit down with the North Koreans to ascertain directly what their positions and motivations are. At the same time, the United States and its allies can convey to them directly where their red lines are and what they stand to benefit from a change in direction.

Some analysts argue the outside world should now focus on containing the North’s nuclear arms programme, saying the Pyongyang will never give up the nuclear bomb because it is the ultimate deterrent.

SO WILL THERE BE ANY CHANGE OVERALL U.S. STRATEGY?

The U.S. is adamant that its two-track strategy of sanctions and dialogue is the best solution. U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth said revelations about the North’s uranium enrichment programme are very serious development, but do not constitute a crisis. He says Washington will continue working in consultation with the four other parties in the six-party talks -- South Korea, Japan, Russia and China.

Editing by Jonathan Thatcher

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