SEOUL — The United States’ top military commander in South Korea warned Friday that North Korea might market its plutonium to terrorists to bolster the communist country’s economy.

“An additional concern the international community shares is that North Korea, in its desire for hard currency, would sell weapons-grade plutonium to some terrorist organizations,” Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, told a breakfast forum in Seoul. “And that would be disastrous to the world.”

LaPorte said North Korea has the ability to harvest plutonium and is known to sell missile technology throughout the world.

“Clearly, they have an opportunity to harvest plutonium from the enrichment rods,” LaPorte said. “From a military standpoint, they do have a capability we must address.”

LaPorte’s concern comes as talks among the United States, North Korea, South Korea and three other Asian nations to stem North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have stalled.

At the same time, America and South Korea have pledged billions of dollars to upgrade defense systems and weaponry in the next few years as the United States pulls 12,500 of its 37,500 troops from the peninsula.

This week, South Korea announced plans to spend $92.5 billion by 2008 to develop defenses less reliant on American forces. In return, U.S. officials have pledged $11 billion toward weapons systems by 2006 to supplement remaining troops on the ground.

The investments include improvements in communication, intelligence and surveillance systems, as well as a weapons system that includes precision-guided missiles, he said.

Earlier this week, U.S. Forces Korea announced LaPorte has agreed to extend his command by one more year through 2006.

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