Seoul - North Korea said Friday that it was entering the final phase of uranium enrichment and was reprocessing plutonium for nuclear weapons from spent fuel rods.
"Experimental uranium enrichment has successfully been conducted and entered into the completion phase," North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency reported, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency. "Reprocessing of spent fuel rods is in its final phase and extracted plutonium is being weaponized."
The statement sent to the United Nations was released after North Korea made a series of conciliatory gestures in April toward its neighbour after tensions about its nuclear and missile programmes had escalated earlier in the year.
Highly enriched uranium can be used to produce nuclear weapons, but the two nuclear tests that North Korea has conducted - one in 2006 and another in May - are believed to have been done so with plutonium reprocessed from fuel rods from its one functioning, plutonium-producing nuclear reactor.
The United Nations imposed further sanctions on North Korea after the nuclear tests and a series of missile launches in the spring. Those sanctions were followed by threats in June from Pyongyang that it would proceed with uranium enrichment and additional production of plutonium.
On Friday, North Korea said it was pursuing a two-pronged strategy that prepared it for "both dialogue and sanctions," indicating it might be ready for further talks on its nuclear programme.
North Korean observers have warned, however, that Pyongyang's recent strategy could be its typical one, in which it makes concessions, only to retreat from those promises and return to work on its nuclear and missile programmes.
It pledged in 2005 to dismantle its nuclear programmes in six-nation talks, but those negotiations have been stalled since last year and Pyongyang dropped out of them in April. (dpa)