06 July 2009

N Korea spent $880m on nuclear tests

From correspondents in Seoul
(News.com.au) - Agence France-Presse

IMPOVERISHED North Korea has spent an estimated $US700 million ($880 million) this year on nuclear and missile tests, enough to solve its food shortage for at least two years, South Korean news reports say.

The figure includes the estimated $US43 million ($54 million) cost of test-firing five Scud and two Rodong missiles on Saturday, according to unidentified government officials quoted by Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

The latest tests, staged on the US Independence Day holiday, were seen as a show of defiance to Washington as it seeks tough enforcement of UN sanctions aimed at shutting down the communist state's nuclear and missile programs.

Officials quoted by Chosun estimated it cost $US300 million ($378 million) to launch a long-range Taepodong-2 missile on April 5, and another $US10 million ($12.6 million) to launch 10 short-range missiles in recent weeks.

In addition, they estimated the May 25 underground nuclear test - the country's second since 2006 - cost between $US300 million to $US400 million ($378 million to $504 million).

JoongAng Ilbo gave similar figures. Neither paper gave the methodology for the cost calculation.

Chosun quoted an unidentified official as saying the North could have bought one million tonnes of rice on the international market for $US300 million ($378 million).

"This amount of rice could have solved the North's food shortage for about a year," the official was quoted as saying.

The UN World Food Program has said that according to a study last year, nearly nine million North Koreans - more than a third of the country's 24 million people - are estimated to need food aid.

Saturday's launches were the biggest salvo of ballistic weaponry since the North fired a Taepodong-2 and six smaller missiles in 2006, also on July 4 US time.

US Vice-President Joseph Biden on Sunday dismissed the launches as "like almost attention-seeking behaviour" and said the focus was on further isolating Pyongyang.

"We have succeeded in uniting the most important and critical countries to North Korea on a common path of further isolating North Korea," he told ABC Television in the US, referring to Russia and China.

These have been traditionally resistant to tough sanctions on Pyongyang but backed the latest measures approved on June 12.

US and South Korean officials believe ailing leader Kim Jong-Il, 67, is staging a show of strength to bolster his authority as he tries to put in place a succession plan involving his youngest son Jong-Un.