North Korea said Tuesday that it was ready to use nuclear weapons “any time” against the United States and reaffirmed that its main nuclear complex was in full operation.
“If the US and other hostile forces persistently seek their reckless hostile policy towards” the North, the country “is fully ready to cope with them with nuclear weapons any time,” the unnamed director of the North’s Atomic Energy Institute was quoted as saying by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The threat was not unusual for North Korea. But it’s bound to heighten concerns that the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is preparing for a nuclear test or long-range ballistic missile launch when the regime commemorates the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party on Oct. 10.
The comments came a day after Pyongyang said that its space agency was preparing to put a new satellite into orbit for scientific purposes. The Washington Post called it a provocative move that "would be seen by the outside world as a part of its efforts to test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland."
In its announcement on Tuesday, the North said it had improved the "quality and quantity" of its nuclear weapons and resumed all operations at its main nuclear plant in Yongbyon, including the uranium-enrichment plant and a 5-megawatt reactor. It marked the first acknowledgement that the plant is fully operational since the North announced in 2013 that it would restart all nuclear facilities, reports Reuters.
North Korea is believed to have built several nuclear bombs using plutonium from spent fuel at the Yongbyon reactor before it was shut down in 2007 under a short-lived agreement with Washington.
Since the deal collapsed in 2013, North Korea has worked to resume operations at the plant. While foreign analysts have questioned its status for the past year, satellite images published last week by 38 North, a North Korea affairs website, showed evidence of new activity there.
“Developments at Yongbyon are cause for concern and should be monitored closely by the international community to determine their purpose,” analysts William Mugford and Jack Liu wrote on the website.
The New York Times reports that American and South Korean officials are especially concerned. Increased activities at Yongbyon have historically increased tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula.
The restarting of the Yongbyon reactor and the operation of the uranium enrichment plant there were particularly worrisome for American officials because they provided the North with two sources of fuel for more nuclear bombs: plutonium and highly enriched uranium …
North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006, the latest in February 2013. The renewed activities in Yongbyon raised concern that North Korea was significantly increasing its nuclear fuel stockpile. Western intelligence officials say that North Korea is trying to build, if it has not already, a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a ballistic missile.
Pyongyang’s latest announcements could undermine signs of improving relations between North and South Korea. The two countries recently agreed to hold reunions next month of families separated by the Korean War.