North Korea claims to be restarting nuclear reactor
The Yongbyon reactor could be operational again within a year.
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U.S. officials say Pyongyang's hardening rhetoric coincides with the mid-August date that North Korea's dictator is believed to have suffered a stroke. American officials say there's a possibility that North Korea's powerful military, the Korean People's Army, is using a power vacuum in Pyongyang to roll back the country's commitments under the nuclear accord.
"The North Korean military was extremely hostile to the agreement from the beginning," said a U.S. diplomat, adding that the army appeared to be behind the move to reverse the dismantling of the Yongbyon reactor. In the Aug. 26 statement, North Korea's Foreign Ministry said the steps to restore the reactor were "strongly requested by its relevant institutions."
Bloomberg reports the US is closely monitoring the situation, according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, as Mr. Kim's condition could impact the stability of North Korea. But even if the situation requires military action, Mr. Gates said, the US is capable of responding, despite its military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"At this point it's not entirely clear how seriously ill he is," Gates told reporters yesterday in London, where he is holding informal talks with NATO counterparts. The U.S. and "all of North Korea's neighbors are concerned about instability, in no small part because of the possibility of large flows of refugees." ...
Gates said he foresaw no repercussions for U.S. troop commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan if a conflict erupts between South Korea and North Korea. ...
"If there ever should be a conflict, the main American contribution is not ground forces," said Gates. "So the connection with Afghanistan and Iraq, I think, is irrelevant."
North Korea's admission that it is restoring its nuclear program follows a report that Pyongyang has also continued development of long-range missiles. South Korea's The Chosun Ilbo reported on Thursday that North Korea reportedly tested the engine of a long-range missile earlier this year at a base under construction near North Korea's western coast. The paper writes the missile base only became known to the media in the past week, though Bloomberg notes South Korean officials say they have been aware of the base "for some time." Bloomberg adds the US could not confirm the missile test, but said such a test would violate a UN Security Council resolution, which was enacted in response to North Korea's October 2006 underground nuclear test.