The belief that North Korea has an active and "clandestine" uranium enrichment program has come under question after statements this week from US officials. The Washington Post reports that the US is now backing away from this position, which has led "experts to believe that the original US intelligence that started the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions may have been flawed."
The chief intelligence officer for North Korea, Joseph R. DeTrani, told Congress on Tuesday that while there is "high confidence" North Korea acquired materials that could be used in a "production-scale" uranium program, there is only "mid-confidence" such a program exists. Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the chief negotiator for disarmament talks, told a conference last week in Washington that it is unclear whether North Korea ever mastered the production techniques necessary for such a program.
If the materials North Korea bought "did not go into a highly enriched uranium program, maybe they went somewhere else," Hill said. "Fine. We can have a discussion about where they are and where they've gone."
The Post reports that these new positions contrast sharply with the Bush administration's statements in 2002 when top administration officials expressed "with certainty" that North Korea was running a uranium enrichment program.
The accusation about the alleged uranium program backfired, sparking a series of events that ultimately led to North Korea's first nuclear test – using another material, plutonium – nearly five months ago.
Dan Froomkin, who writes the Post's White House Watch blog, says this new information describes "a horribly familiar cycle."