- North Korea reportedly had activity at its nuclear reactor before talking to South Korea’s diplomatic envoy, and it suggests Pyongyang has been trying to make more nuclear warheads.
- But North Korea reportedly told South Korea it was open to denuclearization, which seems at odds with an uptick in nuclear production.
- The US responded to North Korea’s talk of denuclearization by implying it was ready for both war and diplomacy, and this may be Pyongyang’s way of saying the same thing.
South Korean diplomats emerged from a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday with shocking news that Pyongyang would agree to talk to the US about denuclearizing – but reports indicate it was doing something mysterious at its nuclear reactor right before the talks.
On February 25, 38 North, a website of expert analysis of imagery and reporting from North Korea, detected plumes of vapor emanating from the generator hall of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.
“As the evidence suggests, it means North Korea has resumed production of plutonium presumably for its nuclear weapons program,” according to the website.
Only weeks later, on March 6, and without any material change in the US or South Korea’s position towards North Korea save for another US sanctions push, Kim reversed course on the country’s nuclear program, according to South Korea’s president’s office.
But in responding to North Korea’s reported overtures of peace, President Donald Trump expressed doubt, tweeting that it may “be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction,” likely referencing both diplomacy and fighting.
According to Yun Sun, an expert on North Korea at the Stimson Center, North Korea both preparing nuclear material and discussing denuclearization “sounds like North Korea is also prepared on both sides.”
“We know that North Korea’s nuclear stock is limited,” Sun told Business Insider, explaining that North Korea would have to enrich more radioactive material to create more nuclear warheads, something satellites can normally spot from space.
“For North Korea this is not atypical,” Sun said about Kim talking diplomacy on one hand while possibly preparing more nuclear weapons on the other.
“North Korea has its programs ongoing,” Sun said. “Before they have a deal, they’d probably see any nuclear activity as justified because there’s no deal.”