North Korea says it's restarted nuclear facilities, threatens US

North Korean soldiers walk down the stairs of the Panmungak building at the Joint Security Area, North Korea, July 27, 2013. North Korean soldiers regularly venture out of the building to observe their South Korean counterparts.



SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Tuesday it has resumed operations at a key nuclear facility and is prepared to use nuclear weapons against the United States.

The posting by the North’s state news agency came a day after Pyongyang said it has the right to conduct rocket launches anytime it chooses, fueling expectations that the provocative communist nation will conduct a satellite test next month as part of 70th anniversary celebrations of its ruling party.

The North is thought to use rocket launches, which it says are intended to put satellites into space for peaceful purposes, as a cover for ballistic missile tests.

On Tuesday, the North’s Korea Central News Agency said “all the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, including the uranium enrichment plant and 5 MW graphite-moderated reactor, were rearranged, changed or readjusted and they started normal operation.”

“If the U.S. and other hostile forces persistently seek their reckless hostile policy towards the DPRK and behave mischievously, the DPRK is fully ready to cope with them with nuclear weapons any time,” KCNA said, referring to the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

KCNA said Monday that the country was moving toward the final phase of developing a weather observation satellite.

“The world will clearly see a series of satellites of (North) Korea soaring into the sky at the times and locations determined by the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea,” South Korea’s Yonhap News quoted the posting as saying.

The North successfully launched a three-stage rocket in 2012, sending into space a satellite that failed to work. It also claimed earlier this year to have developed nuclear warheads small enough to fit in a missile warhead.

South Korea is working with the U.S. to look for signs of an impending missile launch ahead of the celebrations, but has so far detected no unusual activity, the Ministry of National Defense said Tuesday.

A launch would be a violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring North Korea to halt ballistic missile activity, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

North Korea is likely to launch a rocket in the days before the Workers’ Party anniversary on Oct. 10, said Yang Mu-jin, a professor of politics and unification studies at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. Pyongyang wants to do something noteworthy to show that leader Kim Jong Un is firmly in control of the country, and believes it will face few repercussions from China and Russia, he said.

The announcements seem certain to raise tensions on the peninsula again, just weeks after the two Koreas negotiated an end to their most recent crisis, which started with an Aug. 4 land mine explosion that maimed two South Korean soldiers patrolling the Demilitarized Zone and quickly escalated.

Part of the deal called for cooperation on several matters, including reunions for family members separated during the Korean War, and further talks.

A rocket launch could derail plans for the reunions scheduled for late October, depending on whether South Korean President Park Geun-hye decides to link them, Chang said, adding that the South Korean public would back going forward with the meetings.

“Both Koreas have empathy for the reunions of the separated families,” he said.

Twitter: @Rowland_Stripes


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