A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that there are signals that the Nyongbyon nuclear reactor in North Korea has become active again since the beginning of July. This is a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions on nuclear weapons. This is because the reactor is used to make the weapon fuel plutonium. In the last few months, North Korea has alerted the United States of its intention to increase its nuclear program if they did not reverse its hostile policies of U.S.A.-led sanctions and bilateral South Korea military drills. North Korea’s intention intensifies President Joe Biden’s foreign policy which is currently dealing with Afghanistan and stalled talks with Iran on restoring their 2015 deal on their nuclear program.
The IAEA report stated, “There were no indications of reactor operation from early December 2018 to the beginning of July 2021… However, since early July 2021, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor.”
Kim Yo-Jong, Kim Jong-un’s powerful sister, stated that North Korea is aiming for “absolute deterrence” in response to the increasing American threat.
President Biden’s administration agrees with the report that this development is “deeply troubling,” but its policy is currently a middle ground. Thus, a senior official from the administration stated, “This report underscores the urgent need for dialogue and diplomacy so we can achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
There was a deal offered by Kim Jong-un to President Donald Trump in 2019 to shut down the Nyongbyon facility. However, this was rejected as insufficient. Robert Einhorn, a former senior State Department official who has negotiated with North Korea in the past, said, “Resumed operations at the reactor and reprocessing facility may be an indication that he [Kim Jong-un] sees little prospect of a nuclear deal.”
There is a need for a clear policy and strategy when dealing with North Korea ramping up its nuclear program. Also, there should not be a delay in dealing with the issue to deal with other foreign policy issues. Nuclear power is a significant threat and should not be relegated to the bottom of a foreign policy agenda. Nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to the whole world and so nuclear disarmament talks should be prioritized. By not doing so, it signals to North Korea there is hesitation on America’s part to pursue nuclear disarmament and this is a weakness that allows for North Korea to grow its arsenal.
Nuclear disarmament talks are especially important with North Korea because the IAEA has not been allowed access to North Korea since 2009. The IAEA must instead rely on satellite imagery and has done so to produce this report. President Biden’s administration has stated it wants to engage with talks in Pyongyang, however, this offer has not been accepted. The approach the Biden administration wants to pursue is a calibrated one which attempts to navigate a middle ground between the former Trump and Obama administrations.
Even though it may seem like nuclear talks with Pyongyang are not as important due to Afghanistan and the stalled Iran talks, this is not true. There is a possibility that Kim Jong-un may be amenable to the talks due to mounting domestic issues causing international sanctions and closed borders. If America leverages the loosening of U.S.-led sanctions, it may be politically astute for North Korea’s leader to agree to halt their nuclear program to maintain power. America must seize this opportunity for the sake of humanity and peace worldwide.
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