Story Summary

North Korea threatens attack on U.S.

The United States is warning that North Korea could be planning a missile launch soon.

U.S. officials says they’ve intercepted communications indicating the communist country has moved a medium-range ballistic missile to its east coast for a possible launch in the coming days or weeks.

South Korea’s defense minister says it doesn’t look like the missile is aimed at the U.S. mainland, but it could reach Japan, Guam and South Korea, where U.S. troops are stationed.

U.S. defense officials say they’re taking the actions seriously, but some observers say North Korea won’t act on their threats.

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Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the United States is prepared to enter into talks with North Korea, but only if it is serious about negotiating the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

Kerry is in Seoul meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se amid heightened tensions spurred by North Korea’s recent nuclear threats and provocations.

He landed in Seoul, about 30 miles from the demilitarized zone separating the two countries. The Korean peninsula is rife with tensions over the belligerent threats issued by Pyongyang.

The United States will defend itself and its allies if needed, Kerry said.

“North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power,” he said at a news conference with Yun. “The rhetoric that we are hearing is simply unacceptable.”

Pentagon intelligence assessment suggesting North Korea may have the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon on a missile has set off a flurry in Washington, with top officials trying to play down concerns about the capabilities of the Pyongyang regime.

The Pentagon’s intelligence arm has assessed with “moderate confidence” that North Korea has the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon with a ballistic missile, though the reliability is believed to be “low.”

First disclosed by a congressman at a hearing Thursday and then confirmed to CNN by the Defense Department, the assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency is the clearest acknowledgment yet by the United States about potential advances in North Korea’s nuclear program.

The United States calculates that a test launch of mobile ballistic missiles could come at any time. But a senior administration official said there is no indication that missiles that North Korea is believed to be readying for tests have been armed with any nuclear material.

The surprising development comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has unleashed a torrent of dramatic threats against the United States and South Korea in recent weeks, including that of a possible nuclear strike.

Kerry’s Asia trip will include visits to China and Japan. The tour comes at a time when all three countries have new leaders.

It’s the first time the Obama administration is engaging with all three countries in the same trip, the State Department said.

The top U.S. diplomat’s trip comes days after he warned the North on what he calls leader Kim Jong Un’s “provocative … dangerous, reckless” rhetoric and actions.

China, U.S. officials say, is growing more concerned about the North’s provocations, but it also is closely watching Washington’s latest military moves in the region.

Kerry will try to convince leaders in Beijing that Pyongyang is “putting China’s own interests at risk,” a senior administration official said.

Pyongyang’s provocations are the immediate threat, but the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” has broader strategic implications for Beijing.

Throughout his Asia swing, Kerry will have to balance his short-term and long-term diplomatic objectives.

“Secretary Kerry can reassure regional states that, as a Pacific century dawns, the United States will continue to be right in the middle of it and will not allow any power to edge the United States out of a region where nearly every country welcomes its leadership,” said Daniel Twining, the German Marshall Fund‘s senior fellow for Asia.

“He should also make clear that the United States will not countenance aggression against any territory covered by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and commit to working closely with Japan to meet security challenges across Asia, starting with North Korea.”

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North Korea has raised at least one missile into its upright firing position, feeding concerns that a launch is imminent, a U.S. official told CNN Thursday. northkoreaarmy

This comes as the world continued to keep watch for a possible missile launch by the secretive government, and a day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to arrive in the region.

In the latest daily tough talk from the North, a government agency is quoted by the state-run media as saying that “war can break out any moment.”

The South Koreans — who’ve heard the cross-border bombast before — are taking the swagger in stride. Washington regards much of the North’s saber rattling as bluster.

At the same time, both countries and their allies aren’t taking any chances as the daily clamor of threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government shows no sign of letting up.

North Korea’s “actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation,” U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, and the United States “is fully prepared to deal with any contingency.”

After the raising of the missile Wednesday, it was not clear to U.S. officials why the North Korean government did not proceed with the firing.

The U.S. official cautioned that the raising of the missile could have been just a trial run to ensure the equipment works or an effort to “mess” with the United States and the allies that are watching for a launch at any time.

The official declined to specify what type of intelligence led the United States to conclude the medium-range missile — a Musudan — was in a firing position.

The Musudan is an untested weapon that South Korea says has a range as far as 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles).

It could reach as far as Guam, a Western Pacific territory that is home to U.S. naval and air bases, and where the United States recently said it was placing missile defense systems.

The United States and South Korean militaries have been monitoring the movements of mobile ballistic missiles on the east coast of North Korea.

Japan has deployed defense systems, as it has done before North Korean launches in the past, in case any test-fired missile flies near its territory.

The mood in South Korea? ‘Very ordinary’

Life is generally continuing as normal in the region, despite the North’s barrage of recent threats, which have included warnings to foreigners on the peninsula about their safety in the event of conflict,

South Koreans, who have experienced decades of North Korean rage and posturing — and occasional localized attacks — have gone about their daily business without alarm.

“South Korea has been living under such threats from the past, and we are always prepared for it,” South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told CNN Wednesday. He called the current climate “a very ordinary situation.”

Tourist visits to the North appear not to have been significantly affected by the situation. China says that while some tour groups have canceled trips, the border between the two countries is still operating normally.

Foreign athletes are expected to compete in a marathon Sunday in Pyongyang, one of many sporting events organized by North Korean authorities to celebrate the 101st anniversary next week of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and the grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

“Our group just boarded a full plane for #Pyongyang,” Uri Tours, a U.S.-based travel agency that arranges trips to North Korea, tweeted late Wednesday. “Mix of tourists and marathon runners on their way to #NKorea.”

In a report that diminished the idea of a nation on the brink of war, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said this week that “the ongoing sports tournaments make the country seethe with holiday atmosphere.”

South urges dialogue over industrial zone

The difficulties at the Kaesong industrial zone, a key symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, are among the few tangible signs of the tensions.

Pyongyang repeated a threat to permanently close the industrial zone, which it jointly operates with the South, accusing South Korean President Park Geun-hye of putting the manufacturing complex at risk.

The South Korean government, meanwhile, urged Pyongyang to work to resolve the situation through dialogue.

“Pyongyang should come to the bargaining table immediately,” Ryoo said.

He added, “The North should stop actions that threaten the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asian region and start behaving as a responsible member of the international community.”

North Korea has pulled its more than 50,000 workers out of the complex, which is on the northern side of the heavily fortified border that divides the two Koreas, and blocked personnel and supply trucks from entering it from South Korea.

More than 120 South Korean companies have operations there.

In a statement reported Thursday by state-run media, the North Korean government said that what happens at the complex in the coming days “entirely depends on the attitude of the South Korean authorities.”

Provocative acts

Since December, North Korea has put a satellite in orbit atop a long-range rocket; conducted a nuclear bomb test, its third since 2006; and claimed to be prepared for pre-emptive nuclear attacks on the United States, though most analysts believe it does not yet have that capability.

Its most recent nuclear test, in February, resulted in tougher U.N. sanctions, which infuriated Pyongyang, prompting it to sharpen its threats.

Annual military exercises in South Korea by U.S. and South Korean troops, which often upset the North, have added to the tensions, especially when the United States drew attention to shows of strength such as a practice mission by B-2 stealth bombers.

Intelligence suggests that North Korea may be planning “multiple missile launches” in the coming days beyond two Musudan mobile missiles it has placed along its east coast, Pentagon officials told CNN. The officials did not have specifics on the numbers of other missiles and launchers.

One official said the North Koreans are military “masters of deception” and may have planned all along to focus the world’s attention on the Musudans while they planned to launch other missiles. That’s a tactic they have used in the past, the official said.

A launch could take place without the standard notice to commercial aviation and maritime shipping that would warn planes and vessels to stay away from the missile’s path, a U.S. official warned earlier this week.

After a launch, U.S. satellites and radars in the region would be able to calculate the trajectory of a missile within minutes and quickly conclude whether it was on a path headed for open ocean or potentially headed for land areas such as Japan.

The United States and Japan would then have to decide whether to try to shoot the missiles down, U.S. officials say. Authorities in Guam raised the threat level Wednesday to yellow, indicating “a medium risk” for the island.

CNN’s K.J. Kwon, Tim Schwarz, Kyung Lah, Judy Kwon, Matt Smith and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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Countries in northeast Asia remained on edge Wednesday amid warnings from U.S. and South Korean officials that North Korea could carry out a missile test at any point.

Japan has deployed missile defense systems around Tokyo, some Chinese tour groups have canceled visits to North Korea, and U.S. radars and satellites are trained on an area of the Korean east coast where Kim Jong Un’s regime is believed to have prepared mobile ballistic missiles for a possible test launch.

After weeks of belligerent threats and provocative gestures from Pyongyang, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is fragile.

Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, said Tuesday that he couldn’t recall a time of greater tension in the region since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s.

Before the two controversial long-range rocket launches that North Korea carried out last year, the reclusive regime gave ample warning to the world. But it is keeping everyone guessing about what it might do this time around.

“According to intelligence obtained by our side and the U.S., the possibility of a missile launch by North Korea is very high,” South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said at a parliamentary hearing Wednesday, according to the semiofficial South Korean news agency Yonhap.

He said the missile in question is a Musudan, an untested weapon that he said has a range as far as 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles). That would mean it could reach as far as Guam, a Western Pacific territory that is home to U.S. naval and air bases and where the United States recently said it was placing missile defense systems.

A launch without warning?

Yun said he was basing his assessment on South Korean and U.S. intelligence. On Tuesday, a U.S. official said that the American government believes a test launch could happen at any time and without North Korea issuing a standard notice to commercial aviation and maritime shipping that would warn planes and vessels to stay away from the missile’s path.

The official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the information, cautioned that most of the information comes from satellite imagery, so it’s impossible to reach a definitive conclusion because the United States cannot gather information on the ground.

He said the launch could be “imminent” but also cautioned that the United States “simply doesn’t know.” Based on what the United States has seen, the belief is that the missiles have received their liquid fuel and are ready for launch.

Speaking at a Senate Armed Services hearing Tuesday, Locklear said the U.S. military would not want to shoot down a North Korean missile whose trajectory would send it into the open sea. But he said if the missile’s path appeared to threaten a U.S. ally, such as Japan, interceptor missiles could be used to try to bring it down.

Japan’s deployment of missile defenses in Tokyo follows similar measures taken ahead of the North’s rocket launches last year.

Since the U.N. Security Council voted last month to impose new sanctions on Kim’s regime over the latest North Korean nuclear test, Pyongyang has kept up a steady flow of words and acts that could give the impression of a nation heading inexorably toward conflict.

On Tuesday, it advised foreigners in South Korea to secure shelter or evacuate the country in case of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula, the latest in a string of ominous warnings.

It also kept more than 50,000 of its workers from an industrial complex jointly operated with South Korea, which had been a key symbol of cooperation between the two countries.

‘Holiday atmosphere’ inside North Korea

But on the same day, state media published articles that described festive events and international visits, suggesting a much less fraught situation inside North Korea.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that various sporting events were happening or scheduled to take place to mark the 101st anniversary next week of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and the grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

“The ongoing sports tournaments make the country seethe with holiday atmosphere,” KCNA said. Kim Il Sung’s birthday, known as the Day of the Sun, is a major public holiday in North Korea.

The planned events include an international marathon Sunday in Pyongyang in which runners from North Korea and other countries will participate. KCNA also noted Tuesday the arrival by plane in North Korea of a delegation from the Japan-Korea Society for Scientific and Educational Interchange.

Such visits sit strangely alongside the North’s warning last week to foreign diplomats in Pyongyang that it wouldn’t be able to guarantee their safety in the event of a conflict.

Some North Korea watchers have observed that the regime’s domestic propaganda has focused recently on efforts to promote economic development, while the bellicose threats appear targeted primarily at a foreign audience.

Varying levels of concern

The angry rhetoric has also failed to alarm South Koreans, who have lived through decades of North Korean bombast. Residents of Seoul have continued to go unflappably about their daily business.

“South Korea has been living under such threats from the past, and we are always prepared for it,” South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told CNN on Wednesday. He called the current climate “a very ordinary situation.”

“North Korea may launch missiles at any time, and our military is fully prepared for it,” he said.

But the North’s fiery words appear to have had an effect on the American public, with 41% of those surveyed saying they see the reclusive nation as an immediate threat to the United States, according to a recent CNN/ORC International poll.

That’s up 13 percentage points in less than a month, CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.

“If North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to get the attention of the American public, his strategy is starting to work,” Holland said.

Andrei Lankov, a professor of history at Kookmin University in Seoul, noted the varying levels of concern in an opinion article for The New York Times published Tuesday.

“The farther one is from the Korean Peninsula, the more one will find people worried about the recent developments here,” he said.

The tense situation does appear to have prompted some Chinese tour groups to call off upcoming trips to North Korea.

Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Wednesday that some agencies and tourists had canceled plans, but he said the Chinese-North Korean border continued to operate normally.

Western tourism agencies that organize visits to North Korea haven’t so far reported any changes to their activities.

A troubled industrial zone

The most tangible signs of disruption are in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the manufacturing zone on the North Korean side of the border where more than 120 South Korean companies operate.

Last week, the North started blocking South Korean personnel from crossing the border back into the complex. And this week, it said it was pulling out the more than 50,000 North Koreans who work inside the zone and temporarily suspending activities there.

It had blocked the border crossing previously, in 2009, but pulling out the workers was a new step.

As of Wednesday lunchtime, only a few hundred South Koreans remained inside the complex, according to South Korean authorities, down from more than 800 before the North started restricting entry.

Also on Wednesday, South Korea accused the North of carrying out a wave of cyberattacks that paralyzed the networks of major South Korean banks and broadcasters last month. It is the first time that Seoul has formally pointed the finger at Pyongyang for the hacking, which affected more than 48,000 computers.

CNN’s Barbara Starr, Joe Sterling, Elise Labott, K.J. Kwon, Tim Schwarz, Kyung Lah, Judy Kwon, David McKenzie, Tom Cohen and Dana Ford contributed to this report.

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The United States has delayed a long planned missile test, to avoid a misunderstanding with North Korea.

According to CNN, the missile test was initially scheduled to take place at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday. Postponing the test was “prudent and wise,” an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.northkoreaarmy

As threats grow more dramatic, the government in the North told foreign diplomats it could not guarantee their safety, if war broke out. So far,  most nations are keeping their embassies open.

South Korea’s government said it believed North Korea will test a missile around April 10.

Thursday, North Korea moved missiles to its eastern coast and threatened a nuclear strike.

Most military analysts say those missiles could not reach the U.S., but may threaten South Korea, Japan and Guam.

As a precaution, the U.S. has bolstered its missile defense systems in Alaska.

Foreign diplomatic missions in North Korea face an ominous decision after Pyongyang said Friday it could not guarantee the safety of embassies and international organizations in the event of armed conflict.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula remain in a heightened state amid new reports that North Korea has prepared missiles for launch, while South Korea has deployed naval destroyers to its coasts.

The British Foreign Office said North Korea told British officials that it would not be able to guarantee the safety of diplomats in the capital if fighting breaks out.

Several diplomatic missions said the North Koreans held a meeting Friday for ambassadors in which they asked whether anyone needed assistance in evacuating their personnel.

“We are consulting international partners about these developments,” the British Foreign Office said in a written statement. “No decisions have been taken, and we have no immediate plans to withdraw our embassy.”

A spokesman for Sweden’s ministry of foreign affairs said the North Koreans “did not urge us or ask us to evacuate,” but offered assistance for those who wanted to leave.

The Swedish Embassy in North Korea acts “as the United States’ interim protecting power and provides basic consular services to U.S. citizens traveling in North Korea,” according to the U.S. State Department.

The Swedish Embassy remains open and operational, the spokesman said.

Russian state media reported a more specific suggestion for its diplomats.

North Korea asked the Russian Embassy to consider a possible evacuation of its staff because of the tensions, Denis Samsonov, spokesman for the embassy, told Russian state media.

France’s foreign ministry state it was taking the situation “seriously.” It said it had no current plans for evacuations of personnel or French nationals in the country.

The developments come as two medium-range missiles have been loaded onto mobile launchers on the East coast of North Korea, a U.S. official told CNN on Friday. A second U.S. official said intelligence on that is not definitive.

The account followed a report by South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap news agency, citing military sources in Seoul, that the two missiles were ready to be launched. Yonhap said the missiles have been hidden in an unidentified facility.

In response, South Korea has sent Aegis destroyers equipped with advanced radar systems to both of its coasts, Yonhap said, citing navy sources.

The United States would “not be surprised” if North Korea launched a missile, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday. “We have seen them launch missiles in the past and the United Nations Security Council has repeatedly condemned them as violations of the North’s obligations under numerous Security Council resolutions.”

New regional tensions were triggered by North Korean saber rattling, including threats to launch nuclear strikes, and the flexing of military prowess by the United States and South Korea in response.

These followed the imposition of stepped up U.N. sanctions against the North after its latest nuclear test in February.

North Korea has also said it planned to restart “without delay” a reactor at its main nuclear complex that it shut down five years ago as part of a deal with the United States, China and four other nations.

Most observers say the North is still years away from having the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead on a missile.

And many analysts say the increasingly belligerent talk is aimed at cementing the domestic authority of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Thursday the situation did “not need to get hotter,” reflecting efforts by the Obama administration to ease its rhetoric and cool tensions.

But the latest developments by North Korea, which has accused the United States of pushing the region to the “brink of war,” could signal a missile launch soon, officials have said.

The missile components, U.S. and South Korean officials have said, are consistent with those of a Musudan missile, which has a 2,500-mile range, meaning it could threaten South Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia.

It is believed a missile launch would be a “test” launch rather than a targeted strike.

That is because it appears the North Koreans have only moved the components so far. The United States is waiting to see whether North Korea issues a customary notice to its airmen and mariners to stay out of the region.

Communication intercepts in recent days also seem to show that Pyongyang might be planning to launch a mobile ballistic missile in the coming days or weeks, another U.S. official said.

Wednesday, the United States announced it was sending ballistic missile defenses to Guam, a Western Pacific territory that is home to U.S. naval and air bases. North Korea has cited those bases when listing possible targets for missile attacks.

Pentagon officials, while decrying North Korean rhetoric, said recent announcements of U.S. military deployments in response to belligerent statements by Pyongyang may have contributed to the escalating tensions.

As the bombast reaches a fever pitch, the United States is refining its message. The Pentagon now says it is working to decrease the temperature as it maintains a frank and vigilant stance toward the threats.

Starting Wednesday, North Korea also barred South Korean workers and managers from entering the Kaesong industrial complex, an economic cooperation zone that sits on the North’s side of the border but houses operations of scores of South Korean companies.

It also repeated a threat from the weekend to shut down the complex, where more than 50,000 North Koreans work.
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North Korea on Wednesday stirred up fresh unease in Northeast Asia, blocking hundreds of South Koreans from entering a joint industrial complex that serves as an important symbol of cooperation between the two countries.

The move comes a day after Pyongyang announced plans to restart a nuclear reactor it shut down five years ago and follows weeks of bombastic threats against the United States and South Korea from the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, and his government.

The fiery North Korean rhetoric, fueled by recent U.N. sanctions over its latest nuclear test, has created a tense atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula just as the United States and South Korea are engaged in joint military exercises in South Korean territory.

Pyongyang’s threat last month of a possible pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States and South Korea caused particular alarm, despite heavy skepticism from analysts and U.S. officials that the North Korean military is anywhere near capable of carrying out such an attack.

The United States has in turn made a show of its military strength in the annual drills, flying B-2 stealth bombers capable of carrying conventional or nuclear weapons, Cold War-era B-52s and F-22 Raptor stealth fighters over South Korea.

North Korea’s decision Wednesday to prevent South Korean workers and managers from entering the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which sits on the North’s side of the border but houses operations of scores of South Korean companies, is a tangible sign of the tensions between the two sides.

It’s also a move that could end up hurting Pyongyang financially, since Kaesong is considered to be an important source of hard currency for Kim’s regime.

More than 50,000 North Koreans work in the zone, producing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods each year. Those workers earn on average $134 a month, of which North Korean authorities take about 45% in various taxes.

The North had threatened at the weekend to shut down the industrial complex.

A ‘cash cow’

“We are highly skeptical that they will close this cash cow, as some recent reports have suggested,” Stephan Haggard, professor at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, wrote in an article published Monday.

“But if they did, the costs would be higher for the North than for the South,” Haggard wrote in the article for the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington-based research organization.

Seoul said it “deeply regrets” the North’s decision to stop South Koreans from entering Kaesong.

“North Korea’s action creates a barrier to the stable operation” of the complex, the South Korean Unification Ministry said in a statement, urging its neighbor to “immediately normalize” the entry and exit process.

And South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said military action could be taken if the safety of the South Koreans in the zone were to come under threat.

“If there is a serious situation, we are fully ready, including military measures,” he said at a meeting of lawmakers, the semiofficial South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

The North has blocked the crossing into Kaesong before.

In March 2009, also during joint U.S.-South Korean military drills that it said were a threat, Pyongyang shut the border, temporarily trapping hundreds of South Korean workers in the industrial complex.

It allowed many of the stranded workers to return to South Korea the next day, and fully reopened the border about a week later without explaining its reversal.

Hundreds of workers

It was unclear Wednesday whether the latest drama over Kaesong would play out in similar fashion.

At the start of the day, when the North informed the South that it would prevent new entries to the complex, there were 861 South Korean workers in there, according to the Unification Ministry. The North said it would continue to let people leave the zone.

Hundreds of workers rotate in and out of Kaesong each day in a series of scheduled entries and exits. Many of them stay there for several nights.

A total of 484 workers were registered Wednesday to enter the complex, the ministry said, and 446 were registered to leave.

During the late morning and early afternoon exit windows, only a trickle of workers was seen returning to South Korea from Kaesong, far fewer than the scores who were registered to leave at those times.

South Korean authorities didn’t immediately provide an explanation for the discrepancy, saying the individual companies decide when to send workers back.

Kim Kyong-sin, the manager of a textile manufacturing company in Kaesong who came back into South Korea on Wednesday, said some people were staying in the complex because “they are worried they might not be able to come back in.”

During the March 2009 crisis, many South Korean companies with operations in the zone chose to keep more workers there to compensate for those not being allowed in.

Kim said he was scheduled to go back into Kaesong on Thursday, but wasn’t optimistic.

He said there were concerns inside the zone that the blockage at the border could cause supplies of production materials and food for workers to run out within days.

“I think if this continues there, business will be affected,” Kim said. “I think the damage will be serious.”

Kerry calls North ‘reckless’

U.S. and South Korean officials have kept up their criticism of the North’s actions in recent days.

John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, warned Tuesday that the United States will not accept North Korea as a “nuclear state.”

“The bottom line is simply that what Kim Jong Un is choosing to do is provocative. It is dangerous, reckless,” Kerry said during a joint briefing in Washington with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.

“And I reiterate again the United States will do what is necessary to defend ourselves and defend our allies, Korea and Japan,” Kerry added. “We are fully prepared and capable of doing so, and I think the DPRK understands that.”

DPRK is short for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name for North Korea.

The North has said that its nuclear weapons, which it describes as a deterrent, are no longer up for negotiation.

Kerry’s comments came hours after Pyongyang’s declaration that it would restart the reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

The statement demonstrated Kim’s commitment to the North’s nuclear weapons program that the international community has tried to persuade it to abandon.

Crisis has ‘gone too far’

The North Korean announcement was followed by a plea for calm from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is South Korean.

North Korean defectors return rhetorical fire

“The current crisis has already gone too far,” he said in a statement from Andorra. “Nuclear threats are not a game. Aggressive rhetoric and military posturing only result in counteractions, and fuel fear and instability.

“Things must begin to calm down, as this situation, made worse by the lack of communication, could lead down a path that nobody should want to follow.”

On Tuesday evening, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Chinese Minister of National Defense Gen. Chang Wanquan, the Pentagon said.

China is a key ally of North Korea, but it has expressed disappointment and frustration with some of Pyongyang’s recent actions. It supported the U.N. Security Council’s tougher sanctions on Kim’s regime last month.

“The secretary emphasized the growing threat to the U.S. and our allies posed by North Korea’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and expressed to General Chang the importance of sustained U.S.-China dialogue and cooperation on these issues,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.

During the saber-rattling of the past few weeks, Pyongyang has severed a key military hot line with Seoul and declared void the 1953 armistice that stopped the Korean War.

This week, the United States positioned two warships and a sea-based radar platform near the Korean Peninsula to monitor North Korean military moves, defense officials said.

Seoul, meanwhile, on Monday warned that any provocative moves from North Korea would trigger a strong response “without any political considerations.”

CNN’s Kyung Lah reported from Paju, South Korea, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Judy Kwon in Paju; K.J. Kwon in Seoul; Tim Schwarz in Hong Kong; Barbara Starr and Elise Labott in Washington; and Chelsea J. Carter in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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After weeks of hurling threats at the United States and its allies, North Korea announced plans on Tuesday to restart a reactor at its main nuclear complex that it had agreed to shut down more than five years ago.

The declaration demonstrates Kim Jong Un’s commitment to the country’s nuclear weapons program that the international community has persistently but unsuccessfully tried to get it to abandon.

The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the reclusive state’s atomic energy department intends to “readjust and restart all the nuclear facilities” at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Those facilities include a uranium enrichment facility and a reactor that was “mothballed and disabled” under an agreement reached during talks between North Korea, the United States and four other nations in October 2007, KCNA said.

“It’s yet another escalation in this ongoing crisis,” said Ramesh Thakur, director of the Center for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament at Australian National University in Canberra.

The high tensions on the Korean Peninsula have resulted in Pyongyang severing a key military hotline with Seoul and declaring the armistice that stopped the Korean War in the 1953 to be void.

At the same time, the United States has carried out a number of displays of its military strength amid annual training exercises, flying nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers, massive Cold War-era B-52s and F-22 Raptor stealth fighters over South Korea.

And on Monday, South Korea warned that any provocative moves from North Korea would trigger a strong response “without any political considerations.”

Murky motivation

The real motivation behind the North’s announcement Tuesday on the nuclear facilities remains unclear, Thakur said, suggesting that it was unlikely to make a big difference militarily for the country, which is already believed to have between 4 and 10 nuclear weapons.

They may be hoping to use it as a bargaining chip in future talks, he said, or it could be an attempt by the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, to shore up support domestically.

“It’s just a very murky situation,” Thakur said. “The danger is that we can misread one another and end up with a conflict that no one wants.”

China, a key North Korean ally, expressed regret over Pyongyang’s announcement about the reactor.

“China has consistently advocated denuclearization on the peninsula and maintaining peace and stability in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular news briefing Tuesday.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, meanwhile, said the move would need to be dealt with in a serious manner, noting that it breached the North’s previous commitments.

A torrent of threats

The North’s latest declaration comes after it has delivered a steady stream of verbal attacks against South Korea and the United States in recent weeks, including the threat of a nuclear strike.

Pyongyang’s angry words appear to have been fueled by recent joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea in the region, as well as tougher U.N. sanctions in response to the latest North Korean nuclear test in February.

Much of the bellicose rhetoric, analysts say, isn’t matched by the country’s military capabilities.

Still, the U.S. Navy was moving a warship and a sea-based radar platform closer to the North Korean coast in order to monitor that country’s military moves, including possible new missile launches, a Defense Department official said Monday.

The North’s announcement Tuesday follows a new strategic line “on simultaneously pushing forward economic construction and the building of the nuclear armed force” that was set out at a meeting of a key committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea headed by Kim Jong Un on Sunday.

The work of adapting and restarting the nuclear facilities “will be put into practice without delay,” KCNA said.

The measures would help solve “the acute shortage of electricity,” as well as improving the “quality and quantity” of the country’s nuclear arsenal, it said.

Yongbyon’s backstory

In June 2008, the usually secretive North Korean government made a public show of dramatically destroying the cooling tower of the Yongbyon reactor to demonstrate its compliance with a deal to disable its nuclear facilities.

But only two months later, as its leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, balked at U.S. demands for close inspections of its nuclear facilities, the North started to express second thoughts.

It said it was suspending the disabling of its nuclear facilities and considering steps to restore the facilities at Yongbyon “to their original state.”

In November 2009, it announced it was reprocessing nuclear fuel rods as part of measures to resume activities at Yongbyon. It noted success in turning the plutonium it had extracted into weapons-grade material.

CNN’s K.J. Kwon in Seoul, Tim Schwarz in Hong Kong, Dayu Zhang in Beijing, Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo and Barbara Starr in Washington contributed to this report.

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North Korea’s leader approved a plan to prepare standby rockets to hit U.S. targets, state media said Friday, after American stealth bombers carried out a practice mission over South Korea.

In a meeting with military leaders early Friday, Kim Jong Un “said he has judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation,” the state-run KCNA news agency reported.

The rockets are aimed at U.S. targets, including military bases in the Pacific and in South Korea, it said.

“If they make a reckless provocation with huge strategic forces, (we) should mercilessly strike the U.S. mainland, their stronghold, their military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea,” KCNA reported.

North Korean state media carried a photo of Kim meeting with military officials Friday. In the photo, the young leader is seated, leafing through documents with four uniformed officers standing around him.

On the wall behind them, a map titled “Plan for the strategic forces to target mainland U.S.” appears to show straight lines stretching across the Pacific to points on the continental United States.

South Korea and the United States are “monitoring any movements of North Korea’s short, middle and middle- to long-range missiles,” South Korean Defense Ministry Spokesman Kim Min-seok said Friday.

Kim’s regime has unleashed a torrent of threats in the past few weeks, and U.S. officials have said they’re concerned about the recent rhetoric.

“I think their very provocative actions and belligerent tone, it has ratcheted up the danger, and we have to understand that reality,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday at a news briefing.

Some observers have suggested that Washington is adding to tensions in the region by drawing attention to its displays of military strength on North Korea’s doorstep, such as the flights by the B-2 stealth bombers.

Hagel argued against that assertion.

“We, the United States and South Korea, have not been involved in provocating anything,” he said. “We, over the years, have been engaged with South Korea on joint exercises. The B-2 flight was part of that.”

Washington and its allies “are committed to a pathway to peace,” Hagel said. “And the North Koreans seem to be headed in a different direction here.”

But Pentagon spokesman George Little said it was important to remain calm and urged North Korea to “dial the temperature down.”

“No one wants there to be war on the Korean Peninsula, let me make that very clear,” he told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” on Thursday.

Amid the uneasy situation, China, a key North Korean ally that expressed frustration about Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test, also called for calm.

“We hope relevant parties can work together to turn around the tense situation in the region,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said Friday, describing peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as “a joint responsibility.”

Behind North Korea’s heated words about missile strikes, one analyst said, there might not be much mettle.

“The fact is that despite the bombast, and unless there has been a miraculous turnaround among North Korea’s strategic forces, there is little to no chance that it could successfully land a missile on Guam, Hawaii or anywhere else outside the Korean Peninsula that U.S. forces may be stationed,” James Hardy, Asia-Pacific editor of IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, wrote in an opinion column published Thursday on CNN.com.

North Korea’s latest threat Friday morning came after the United States said Thursday that it flew two stealth bombers over South Korea in annual military exercises.

The mission by the B-2 Spirit bombers, which can carry conventional and nuclear weapons, “demonstrates the United States’ ability to conduct long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will,” a statement from U.S. Forces Korea said.

The North Korean state news agency described the mission as “an ultimatum that they (the United States) will ignite a nuclear war at any cost on the Korean Peninsula.”

The North has repeatedly claimed that the U.S.-South Korean military exercises are tantamount to threats of nuclear war against it.

The disclosure of the B-2 flights came a day after North Korea said it was cutting a key military hotline with South Korea, provoking fresh expressions of concern from U.S. officials about Pyongyang’s recent rhetoric.

Tensions escalated on the Korean Peninsula after the North carried out a long-range rocket launch in December and an underground nuclear test last month, prompting the U.N. Security Council to step up sanctions on the secretive government.

U.S. officials concerned about North Korea’s ‘ratcheting up of rhetoric’

Pyongyang has expressed fury about the sanctions and the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, due to continue until the end of April.

The deteriorating relations have killed hopes of reviving multilateral talks over North Korea’s nuclear program for the foreseeable future. Indeed, Pyongyang has declared that the subject is no longer up for discussion.

While Kim appears to have spurned the prospect of dialogue with U.S. and South Korean officials, he met with Dennis Rodman during the U.S. basketball star’s bizarre recent visit to North Korea.

Sharp increases in tensions on the Korean Peninsula have taken place during the drills in previous years. The last time the North cut off military communications with the South was during similar exercises in March 2009.

North Korea has gone through cycles of “provocative behavior” for decades, Little, the Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday.

“And we have to deal with them. We have to be sober, calm, cool, collected about these periods. That’s what we’re doing right now,” he said. “And we are assuring our South Korean allies day to day that we stand with them in the face of these provocations.”

The recent saber-rattling from Pyongyang has included threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the United States and South Korea, as well as the declaration that the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953 is null and void.

On Tuesday, the North said it planned to place military units tasked with targeting U.S. bases under combat-ready status.

Most observers say North Korea is still years away from having the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead on a missile, but it does have plenty of conventional military firepower, including medium-range ballistic missiles that can carry high explosives for hundreds of miles.

Little said Thursday that the United States was keeping a close eye on North Korea’s missile capabilities.

“The important thing is for us to stay out ahead of what we think the North Korean threat is, especially from their missile program,” he said. “They’ve been testing more missiles, and they’ve been growing their capabilities and we have to stay out ahead.”

CNN’s K.J. Kwon in Seoul, South Korea, and Dayu Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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The United States said Thursday it flew stealth bombers over South Korea to participate in annual military exercises amid spiking tensions with North Korea.

The B-2 Spirit bombers flew more than 6,500 miles from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to South Korea, dropping inert munitions there as part of the exercises, before returning to the U.S. mainland, the U.S Forces in Korea said in a statement.

The mission by the planes, which can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons, “demonstrates the United States’ ability to conduct long range, precision strikes quickly and at will,” the statement said.

The U.S. military’s announcement earlier this month that it was flying B-52 bombers over South Korea to participate in the routine exercises prompted an angry reaction from the regime of Kim Jong Un, which has unleashed a torrent of threats in the past few weeks.

There was no immediate reaction to the U.S. statement Thursday from the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“The United States is steadfast in its alliance commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea, to deterring aggression, and to ensuring peace and stability in the region,” the statement said, using South Korea’s official name. “The B-2 bomber is an important element of America’s enduring and robust extended deterrence capability in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The disclosure of the B-2 flights comes a day after North Korea said it was cutting a key military hotline with South Korea, provoking fresh expressions of concern from U.S. officials about Pyongyang’s recent rhetoric. There are several hotlines between North and South Korea.

“North Korea is not a paper tiger so it wouldn’t be smart to dismiss its provocative behavior as pure bluster,” a U.S. official said Wednesday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by phone to his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, on Wednesday evening, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said, noting the “heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula.”

The recent saber-rattling from Pyongyang has included threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the United States and South Korea, as well as the declaration that the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953 is null and void.

On Tuesday, the North said it planned to place military units tasked with targeting U.S. bases under combat-ready status.

Most observers say North Korea is still years away from having the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead on a missile, but it does have plenty of conventional military firepower, including medium-range ballistic missiles that can carry high explosives for hundreds of miles.

Tensions escalated on the Korean Peninsula after the North carried out a long-range rocket launch in December and an underground nuclear test last month, prompting the U.N. Security Council to step up sanctions on the secretive regime.

Pyongyang has expressed fury over the sanctions and the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which are due to continue until the end of April.

The North has claimed that the exercises are tantamount to threats of nuclear war against it.

Sharp increases in tensions on the Korean Peninsula have taken place during the drills in previous years. The last time the North cut off military communications with the South was during similar exercises in March 2009.

CNN’s Chris Lawrence contributed to this report.

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The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed tougher sanctions against North Korea Thursday targeting the secretive nation’s nuclear program hours after Pyongyang threatened a possible “preemptive nuclear attack.”

“These sanctions will bite, and bite hard,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said after the vote.

China, North Korea’s key ally, could have used its veto power to block the sanctions. Instead, after weeks of negotiating, it signed on to the final draft.

“China is a country of principle,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong said. “We are firmly committed to safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”
Leading up to the vote, Pyongyang ratcheted up its bellicose rhetoric.

A spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry suggested the United States “is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war.”

As a result, North Korea “will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country,” the country said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Despite the strong language, analysts say North Korea is years away from having the technology necessary to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile and aim it accurately at a target. And, analysts say, North Korea is unlikely to seek a direct military conflict with the United States, preferring instead to try to gain traction through threats and the buildup of its military deterrent.

But the threat came amid increased concern over Pyongyang’s dogged efforts to advance its nuclear and missile technology after a recent long-range rocket launch and underground atomic blast.

On Tuesday, North Korea said it planned to scrap the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953 and warned it could carry out strikes against the United States and South Korea.

The rhetoric came not only in advance of the U.N. vote, but also as military drills take place on either side of the heavily armed border that divides the two Koreas.

This week, the United States and South Korean began two months of joint exercises, known as Foal Eagle. North Korea has called the annual training exercises “an open declaration of a war,” but South Korea says it notified Pyongyang that the drills “are defensive in nature.”

North Korea’s nuclear threat Thursday “may suggest that Pyongyang feels even more boxed in than usual,” said Michael Mazza of the American Enterprise Institute.

And while a nuclear attack itself is not an immediate palpable threat, “This surge in provocative rhetoric is particularly dangerous,” added Michael Auslin, also with the institute. “South Korea’s new president (Park Geun Hye) can’t be seen to back down in the face of the North’s threats, while (new North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un may feel that his successful missile and nuclear tests give him the ability to keep pressuring Seoul. The two may wind up talking themselves into conflict.”

South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Kim Sook said Thursday the new resolution “reflects the will of the international community,” which “will never tolerate North Korea’s repeated violations and North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.”

“Each violation will be met by stronger responses and measures,” he added.

Will the new sanctions work?

The goal of the new sanctions is to stymie the activities of North Korean banks and cash couriers who might be funneling money to the secretive regime’s nuclear and missile programs.

It will be tougher for the regime to move large sums of cash stuffed into suitcases, Rice said.

The U.N. resolution also outlines measures to step up scrutiny of suspicious sea shipments and air cargo. And it expands restrictions to encompass several institutions and senior officials in the North’s weapons industry, as well as a range of materials and technology known to be used in uranium enrichment.

It also blocks the sale of luxury goods — such as yachts and certain high-end jewelry — to North Korea.

“As a result, North Korea’s ruling elite, who have been living large while impoverishing their people, will pay a price” for the ongoing nuclear activities, Rice said.

Some doubt whether the new measures will make much difference.

Sanctions imposed after previous nuclear tests and rocket launches have failed to deter Pyongyang.

China will go a long way toward determining whether the new sanctions really do have “bite,” analysts say.

“As long as China allows North Korea to operate, as long as China provides food, energy assistance, and investment, the sanctions really don’t matter,” said Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute.

North Korea notoriously allows many of its people to live in malnutrition and starvation. Still, the country needs a functioning economy, partly to finance its military, Bandow explained.

“Kim Jong Un is now paying the price for going ahead with a nuclear test despite Chinese warnings not to create trouble during the political transition that has been under way in Beijing the past year,” Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme at the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said this week.
Future levels of Chinese grain sales to North Korea are a possible indicator of Beijing’s commitment to putting meaningful pressure on Pyongyang, he said.

Ken Gause, an analyst with CNA, said the new sanctions won’t deter North Korea from building up its nuclear program.

“North Korea last year inserted language into its constitution that the country is a nuclear power. To walk back from this, especially under pressure from the outside world, would undermine Kim

Jong Un’s legitimacy and make him vulnerable. He will not do this,” said Gause.

North Korea casts U.N. sanctions as part of an aggressive, U.S.-led conspiracy against it.

Simmering tensions

North Korea said the underground nuclear blast it conducted February 12 was more powerful than its two previous detonations and used a smaller, lighter device, suggesting advances in its weapons program.

It was the first nuclear test the isolated state has carried out since Kim inherited power in December 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, who made building up North Korea’s military strength the focus of his 17-year rule.

The test followed the North’s long-range rocket launch in December that succeeded in putting an object in orbit. Pyongyang insisted the launch had peaceful aims, but it was widely viewed as a test of its ballistic missile technology.
Long history

North and South Korea have technically been at war for decades. The 1950-53 civil war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

China supported the North with materiel and troops in the Korean War. The United States backed the South in the conflict, with soldiers from the two countries fighting side by side. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are currently stationed in South Korea.

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