LONDON (AFP) — North Korea can put its nuclear programme back on track in less than a year, after the reclusive state stopped disabling atomic plants, a leading think tank warned Thursday.
Uncertainty over the health of leader Kim Jong-Il means the reclusive nation's stalemate with Washington over its nuclear programme is likely to continue, added the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
"Diplomatic efforts to stem the nuclear proliferation challenges posed by Iran and North Korea are both deadlocked," IISS chief John Chipman said as he launched the group's annual review of global security.
"It will take North Korea less than one year to undo the steps that up until August it was taking to disable its declared nuclear facilities."
North Korea last month stopped disabling its nuclear plants, which it agreed to do under a six-nation disarmament deal, and is taking initial steps to restart its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor.
Pyongyang is angry at the US failure to drop it from a terrorism blacklist due to a dispute over verification of nuclear activities.
"Uncertainty about the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il solidifies the stalemate that is likely to continue at least until a new US president takes office," Chipman said.
In its Strategic Survey 2008, the IISS said coaxing North Korea to abandon its nuclear programmes has often seemed like "trying to roll a rock up a steep mountain."
"If he wants any of his three sons to inherit his rule, Kim Jong-Il needs a long period of tranquillity on his borders to make it possible," the London-based institute said.
"Underlying Pyongyang's drive for better relations may be a calculation that Washington can serve as a counterbalance to Beijing," it added.
"However, there will be persistent concern in Washington not only about the uncertainty of North Korea giving up all of its plutonium, but also about security challenges posed by Pyongyang's ballistic missile programme, chemical weapons stocks and forward-deployed conventional forces, as well as about human rights."
"Meanwhile, Kim Jong-Il would be careful not to embrace the outside world so that his grip on the North Korean people loosens."
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