American diplomats in Seoul, South Korea, sent another not-so-subtle reminder to North Korea’s tubby tyrant Kim Jong-un that American strike fighters are lurking across the border - just in case his hot rhetoric morphs into hostile action.
Embassy officials in Seoul tweeted this ominous photograph of two recently deployed stealth F-22 Raptors on patrol over South Korea.
“U.S. has sent F-22 stealth fighter jets to the ROK to join drills underscoring our commitment to defend Korea,” embassy officials tweeted in English and Korean.
Last week, embassy officials tweeted an image of a B-2 stealth bomber refueling near the North Korean border.
The American embassy action came as North Korea said Tuesday it would restart a nuclear reactor which makes plutonium and refurbish a uranium-enrichment plant, to produce fissile material for atomic weapons, breaching international agreements and drawing international condemnation.
The Five Megawatt graphite-moderated reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex 55 miles north of Pyongyang, was closed down, and its cooling tower demolished, in 2007 as part of an ill-fated energy-for-disarmament deal.
It was reprocessed waste fuel from this reactor which provided the plutonium — six to eight weapons worth — that North Korea is believed to have used in its first two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
In a statement carried by state-controlled media, an unnamed spokesman for Pyongyang’s General Department of Atomic Energy did not say when the reactor will be restarted, but added work would begin “without delay.”
All nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, including the uranium enrichment plant as well as the reactor, will be refurbished as part of the resumption of operations, the spokesman said, according to Yonhap, an independent South Korean news agency.
The uranium enrichment plant was unveiled by showing it to an American scholar in 2010, when the North Koreans claimed to be using it for peaceful purposes as part of a nuclear energy program.
Tuesday’s statement said the facility would be used to meet an “acute shortage of electricity” and to bolster “the nuclear armed force,” according to Reuters.
Weaponizing uranium-based nuclear devices is much less of an engineering challenge than making bombs using Plutonium, say experts. It is not known whether North Korea’s latest nuclear test on Feb. 12 used uranium or plutonium.
The news brought international condemnation.
South Korea’s foreign ministry called the move “highly regrettable” and urged Pyongyang to comply with past promises of nuclear disarmament, Yonhap reported.
Foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters he was “aware” of the North’s announcement. “If it is true, it would be highly regrettable,” he said.
“North Korea must live up to its promises it made in the past and achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Cho said, according to Yonhap.
Japan’s Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the move would need to be dealt with in a serious manner, also noting that it was a breach of previous North Korean commitments.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is South Korean said he was “deeply troubled” by the news, CNN reported.
“The current crisis has already gone too far,” Mr. Ban said in a statement from Andorra. “Nuclear threats are not a game. Aggressive rhetoric and military posturing only result in counter-actions, 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.”
In Beijing, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Hong Lei, said that China, the North’s only major-nation ally and largest trading partner, was “regretful” about the news.
“We have noticed the statement made by the DPRK and feel regretful about it,” Mr. Hong told a daily briefing for reporters, according to the New York Times. China urged “all parties to remain calm and restrained,” he said.