With inter-Korean tensions running high, Pyongyang has announced its intent to reopen a nuclear reactor, further heightening alarm at the latest round of provocative moves by the isolated state. This comes just after the publication of a speech made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appearing to tone down belligerent rhetoric, and the US noting that it is seeing no indication of ramped up military activity in the North.
Nuclear announcement comes just after apparent tone-down of rhetoric
Tensions are running high on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea launched a rocket seen as a test of prohibited missile technology last year, followed by its third nuclear test in February. UN sanctions as well as annual US-South Korea military exercises followed, which were met by hostile North Korean responses, including cutting a military hotline with South Korea, nullifying the armistice which ended the Korean War in 1953, threatening the US with nuclear and missile strikes, and declaring a "state of war" with South Korea.
In a speech published on Tuesday, Mr Kim Jong Un said that nuclear capability supported economic development -- suggesting that the North was attempting to shift its emphasis towards development. White House spokeman Jay Carney also said the US has not observed a significant change in military posture in North Korea, but underscored that the US was closely monitoring the situation.
However, Pyongyang announced shortly after that it would restart the closed-down Yongbyon nulcear complex, which is deemed capable of making bomb-grade plutonium. This is widely seen as a highly provocative move that could further enhance the North's nuclear stockpile and further escalate tensions.
Report: North Korean leader dials down hostile rhetoric [Reuters, 2 Apr 2013]
Report: US sees 'no changes' to North Korean military posture [BBC, 2 Apr 2013]
Report: North Korea announces plans to restart nuclear complex [Guardian, 2 Apr 2013]
Hostility seen as move to consolidate power domestically and to force US concessions
Analysts have pointed out that this follows North Korea's observed pattern of provocative behaviour. They interpreted this latest round of hostility as attempts by Mr Kim to cement power domestically, to test the new South Korean president Ms Park Geun-hye, as well as to gain concessions from the US. Experts also indicated that a long time frame would be needed to reopen the Yongbyon nuclear facility.
But observers also cautioned that given high tensions, there is the risk of a small-scale military incident taking place, similar to North Korea's sinking of a South Korean warship and its artillery strike on a South Korean island in 2010.
Analysis: North Korea to restart nuclear facilities [Financial Times, 2 Apr 2013]
Analysis: North Korean War Threats Spotlight Its Untested Dictator [Bloomberg, 1 Apr 2013]