The United Nation's nuclear watchdog has confirmed Pyongyang's progress in advancing its nuclear weapons program. The agency's worry comes admist growing tension around North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
In an interview with German daily"Süddeutsche Zeitung" on Friday, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano expressed real worry about North Korea's nuclear advances.
"We have indicators that the nuclear program is progressing as announced," Amano said.
"All the evidence tells us that North Korea is taking steps forward. And that makes us concerned," he said, adding that the security concerns extend beyond the immediate pacific region.
The IAEA promotes the peaceful use and development of nuclear energy for non-military purposes. Though its inspectors have been banned from entering North Korea since 2009, Amano said satellite images enabled agency experts to draw their conclusions.
Satellite imagery showing an apparent resumption of activity at a nuclear test facility in North Korea
Growing concern in an intensifying conflict
The IAEA's vocal concern adds to the intensifying conflict surrounding North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Since 2006, the internationally-isolated nation has undertaken five atomic tests, two of which occurred in the past year, according to the country's own statements. In addition, North Korea has been repeatedly test-firing ballistic missiles, all in violation of UN resolutions.
The last such missile, test-fired at the end of April, broke apart shortly after launch.
Tension has ratcheted up in 2017, and in the past weeks, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un threatened Japan, South Korea and the west coast of the United States with a possible attack.
In response, US President Donald Trump has sought to exert greater pressure on Pyongyang since taking office. He recently warned a "major, major conflict"with the rogue nation was possible and has not ruled out military action.
However, earlier this week, the US president unexpectedly said he would be prepared to meet with Kim under certain conditions, calling the potential meeting an honor.
Even though Trump has increased pressure on North Korea, he would be open to meeting with North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un.
Trump has been courting American allies in the Pacific, including through recent phone calls with Thailand and Singapore, in an effort to strengthen the alliance against North Korea. And on Thursday, the US House of Representatives voted to impose new sanctionson Pyongyang as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Southeast Asian governments to continue isolating North Korea.
North Korea's latest aggressive action and rhetoric may alienate the country's last ally: China. In a statement made Wednesday to the North Korean state news agency KCNA, Pyongyang warned Bejing not to test "the limits of our patience further."
China has increasingly called on its neighbor to end provocative missile and atomic weapons tests. The country's leader Xi Jinping and Trump have also discussed managing North Korea's nuclear program in an April face-to-face meeting and telephone conversations.
cmb/rt (dpa, AFP)