SEOUL, (Reuters) – A bristling North Korea today said it was ready to retaliate in the face of international condemnation over its failed rocket launch, increasing the likelihood the hermit state will push ahead with a third nuclear test.
The North also ditched an agreement to allow back inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. That followed a U.S. decision, in response to the rocket launch it says was a disguised long-range missile test, to break off a deal earlier this year to provide the impoverished state with food aid.
Pyongyang called the U.S. move a hostile act and said it was no longer bound by its Feb. 29 agreement with Washington, dashing any hopes that new leader Kim Jong-un would soften a foreign policy that has for years been based on the threat of an atomic arsenal to leverage concessions out of regional powers.
“We have thus become able to take necessary retaliatory measures, free from the agreement,” the official KCNA news agency said, without specifying what actions it might take.
Many analysts expect that with its third test, North Korea will for the first time try a nuclear device using highly enriched uranium, something it was long suspected of developing but which it only publicly admitted to about two years ago.
“If it conducts a nuclear test, it will be uranium rather than plutonium because North Korea would want to use the test as a big global advertisement for its newer, bigger nuclear capabilities,” said Baek Seung-joo of the Seoul-based Korea Institute for Defense Analysis.
Defence experts say that by successfully enriching uranium, to make bombs of the type dropped on Hiroshima nearly 70 years ago, the North would be able to significantly build it up stocks of weapons-grade nuclear material.