Weeks after narrowly averting a potential armed conflict with its neighbor to the south, North Korea is once again rattling its sabers, this time claiming it has resumed work at a major nuclear site.
The head of the North Korean Atomic Energy Institute was quoted in state media as saying Pyongyang is improving its nuclear weapons stockpile “in quality and in quantity.”
“If the U.S. and other hostile forces persistently seek their reckless hostile policy towards the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and behave mischievously, the DPRK is fully ready to cope with them with nuclear weapons any time," the director said.
The official claimed the main nuclear hub at Yongbyon, which boasts a uranium enrichment plant and a plutonium production reactor, is operating normally.
If true, that would violate a 2007 agreement reached through “six party” talks between the United States, China, Russia, Japan and both North and South Korea. However, Pyongyang announced in 2013 it would begin work to revamp the site.
The bellicose rhetoric increased shortly after the Stalinist state said it was readying to launch “satellites,” which Western officials warn could in reality be long-range ballistic missiles, possibly to commemorate the upcoming 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers Party on October 10.
North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in 2013, which prompted international condemnation and additional economic sanctions.
Like last month’s confrontation with South Korea, which saw the two states exchange artillery fire and hurl propaganda over each other’s borders, it’s unclear if North Korea’s statements are aimed at squeezing humanitarian concessions from the international community or shoring up internal support for the country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-Un.
The last dust-up was resolved just hours before a deadline, imposed by the North, that threatened major military action on the Korean peninsula for the first time since the 1950s. Instead, the two sides brokered a deal to defuse the tension.
Regardless of the motive, the Obama administration and its allies warned the Pyongyang to halt its actions immediately.
“We will repeat our call that North Korea should refrain from irresponsible provocation that aggravate regional tensions,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday during a press briefing.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said a rocket launch would be a "serious provocation."