North Korea said it is ready to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. at any time and that its main nuclear facility was fully operational, allowing the country to improve both the quality and the quantity of its nuclear weapons.
The statement, along with a pledge to launch a satellite with missile technology banned by the United Nations Security Council, comes as the Kim Jong Un regime prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party. The comments fit a pattern of saber rattling by the authorities in Pyongyang before the celebration of such milestones.
“It’s sending a message to the U.S. that its nuclear threat will only get worse if the country continues to be treated with sanctions and pressure rather than with negotiations,” Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said by phone. “It’s North Korea’s traditional playbook: First start a crisis with words before actually making action.”
North Korea has often used heightened tensions to seek economic and political concessions from South Korea and the U.S., and the belligerent rhetoric also comes as at time when Pyongyang is facing pressure from China, its traditional ally, to drop its nuclear arms development. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to discuss the North Korean nuclear threat when he meets with U.S. President Barack Obama later this month in Washington.
Yongbyon Operating Again
North Korea’s Atomic Energy Institute said Tuesday that the Kim Jong Un regime has been improving the quantity and quality of its nuclear weapons and confirmed the Yongbyon nuclear complex was fully operational after being restarted in 2013.
The plant had been mothballed in 2007 as part of the six- nation disarmament talks that broke down in 2009. The negotiations, which also included China, Japan, and Russia, collapsed in 2009 after North Korea walked out in response to UN condemnation of a long-range rocket launch.
China has been pushing to get the talks back on track with a government think tank hosting a forum on Sept. 18-19 with officials from the six nations to discuss the issue.
“China reiterates the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and our stance is consistent and clear,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday in Beijing. North Korea probably won’t immediately follow up with a long- range rocket launch or another nuclear test, Dongguk’s Koh said. The statements “help show off Kim’s exploits during his leadership both at home and abroad ahead of the anniversary.”
The Kim regime last launched a long-range rocket in December 2012, when it put a satellite into orbit, prompting the UN rebuke. It conducted its third nuclear test two months later, triggering a tightening of existing sanctions. In April 2013, North Korea announced that it would restart Yongbyon, which had been temporarily mothballed under the failed six-nation disarmament talks.
Military analysts have documented signs of uranium enrichment at Yongbyon in recent years, but Tuesday’s statement, released on the government-run Korean Central New Agency, was the first official confirmation. Uranium, if highly enriched, provides a second track to developing nuclear bombs in addition to the country’s existing stockpile of plutonium.
On the possible rocket launch, North Korea said the new satellite was a “peaceful project” intended to help improve its economy, KCNA reported. It didn’t give any time frame for a launch.
North Korea hasn’t shown any signs of an imminent launch, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said in a briefing in Seoul Tuesday. Any launch would be a “grave provocation,” and South Korea and the U.S. are cooperating to detect “all situations” regarding North Korea’s long-range missiles, he said.
“Any satellite launch using ballistic missile technology would be a clear violation of those resolutions,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a briefing Sept. 14 in Washington.
Kim remains diplomatically isolated since the 2013 nuclear test that further strained ties with China, North Korea’s biggest ally. In July, the regime said it isn’t interested in an Iran-like dialogue on freezing or dismantling its nuclear- weapons program, KCNA reported at the time, citing an unidentified foreign ministry spokesman.
The following month, Kim put his troops on a war footing after South Korea blamed North Korea for a land mine blast in the demilitarized zone and resumed propaganda broadcasts that had been suspended for more than a decade. The standoff led to an agreement to ratchet down tensions that Kim later praised as a “turning point” for ties. That deal was followed by an agreement to restart next month the reunions of families separated by the Korean War that ended more than 60 years ago without a peace treaty.