SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - North Korea's nuclear activity is still a serious concern and its pursuit of nuclear weapons is a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency told its board members on Monday (Sept 14).
Noting that monitoring is limited because UN nuclear inspectors are not allowed in North Korea, the agency's director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi said Pyongyang appeared to have continued to operate nuclear facilities.
UN inspectors were expelled from the North in April 2009.
"There were indications consistent with the production of enriched uranium at the reported centrifuge enrichment facility at Yongbyon," he said.
It was likely that the North has continued activity at the experimental light-water reactor, though the five megawatt reactor and the Radiochemical Laboratory showed no signs of operation, he added.
Also on Monday, the commander of the US Strategic Command told a press briefing he could not discuss specifics of any operational plan, in response to earlier reports in Seoul that said the United States considered using nuclear weapons in the event of a strike from Pyongyang.
"And I'll tell you that whatever the situation is or whatever O-Plan needs to be considered, my forces will be ready to support what they'll be asked to do," Admiral Charles Richard said, assuring of the US commitment to providing extended deterrence to South Korea, a reference to the US nuclear umbrella to which North Korea has long objected.
Local news outlets in South Korea have reported that the US reviewed an operational plan aimed for a North Korea regime change in response to an attack by the North, and that the plan involved using 80 nuclear weapons, citing Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward's book Rage on the Trump administration.
South Korea's presidential office immediately moved to deny the claims.
"I say this unequivocally: Our operational plan does not involve nuclear weapons," a senior Cheong Wa Dae official said, adding: "Mobilising forces here in the Korean peninsula is impossible without our consent."
Local reports may have made a misinterpretation in translating the part of the book that described the plan as "the US response to an attack that could include the use of 80 nuclear weapons", the presidential office said.
The grammar is ambiguous so that the reference to the "use of 80 nuclear weapons" in the sentence could relate to either the attack or the response, it said.