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“Worse things have happened. It’s the easiest thing North Korea can do to express its anger,” he said.

“You can’t just turn on a reactor in a couple weeks. They could test a nuclear device, but it would be such an escalation that the parties-that-be internationally would have to respond negatively. Kicking out the monitors is something that easily can be reversed and not cause that much harm.”

He said it would take fuel-deficient North Korea six months to a year to restart the reactor.

Nuclear expert Whang Joo-ho of Kyung Hee University in South Korea estimated it could take even longer to get Yongbyon’s reactor and reprocessing facilities running again. He described the Soviet-designed reactor as “functionally outdated,” saying it may not even pose a security threat if fully restored.

However, the threats could be enough to get President Barack Obama’s attention, especially with two American reporters — Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV — still in North Korean custody since last month. Pyongyang has threatened to put them on trial for illegal entry and “hostile acts.”

Associated Press writers Kwang-tae Kim and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, Shino Yuasa in Tokyo, George Jahn in Vienna, Matthew Lee in Washington, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, Cara Anna in New York and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.