North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has announced that his country’s nuclear weapons should be ready for use “at any time”, state media report.
Kim Jong-un told military leaders North Korea would revise its military posture to be ready to launch pre-emptive strikes, the KCNA said.
However, despite its rhetoric it remains unclear how advanced North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is.
The UN has imposed some of its toughest ever sanctions on North Korea following its nuclear test and missile launch.
In response on March 3, North Korea fired six short-range projectiles into the sea.
According to the KCNA, Kim Jong-un was speaking at a military exercise on March 3, which is thought to be when the projectiles were fired.
Kim Jong-un said North Korea “must always be ready to fire our nuclear warheads at any time” because enemies were threatening the North’s survival.
“At an extreme time when the Americans… are urging war and disaster on other countries and people, the only way to defend our sovereignty and right to live is to bolster our nuclear capability,” he was quoted as saying.
Analysts still doubt whether North Korea has the ability to make a nuclear bomb small enough to put on a feasible missile, but Kim Jong-un’s announcement brought a swift response from the US.
“We urge North Korea to refrain from provocative actions that aggravate tensions and instead focus on fulfilling its international obligations and commitments,” Pentagon spokesman Commander Bill Urban said.
The US and South Korea began talks on March 4 on the possible deployment of a US missile defense shield in the South.
Initial talks will focus on the costs, effectiveness and environmental impact of installing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, among other issues, the Yonhap news agency reported.
According to South Korea’s defense ministry, North Korea has fired several short-range projectiles into the sea hours after the UN Security Council unanimously voted to impose some of its strongest ever sanctions against the country.
The projectiles were fired at about 10:00 local time from Wonsan on the east coast, a South Korean spokesman told the Yonhap news agency.
He said they were still trying to determine exactly what was fired.
Yonhap quoted officials as saying all the objects fell into the sea.
The new UN measures are a response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test and satellite launch, both of which violated existing sanctions.
They will result in all cargo going to and from the country being inspected, while 16 new individuals and 12 organizations have been blacklisted.
The US and North Korea’s long-standing ally China spent seven weeks discussing the new sanctions.
President Barack Obama said the international community was “speaking with one voice” to tell the North it “must abandon these dangerous programs and choose a better path for its people”.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye welcomed the sanctions, saying she hoped North Korea “will now abandon its nuclear development program and embark on a path of change”.
North Korea insists its missile program is purely scientific in nature, but the United States, South Korea and even its ally China say such launches like the one which put a satellite in orbit last month are aimed at developing inter-continental ballistic missiles.
The US has submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test and missile launch.
The resolution, aimed at imposing tougher sanctions on North Korea, is backed by China.
The measures would for the first time require UN member states to inspect all cargo to or from North Korea.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said it would be the strongest set of sanctions imposed by the Security Council in more than 20 years.
A vote is expected at the weekend.
North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket in February and a nuclear test in January were widely condemned as a flagrant violation of UN resolutions.
China also condemned North Korea’s actions but it has previously been reluctant to endorse sanctions that could threaten its neighbor’s stability.
“For the first time in history, all cargo going in and out of the DPRK (North Korea) would be subjected to mandatory inspection,” Samantha Power said after presenting the draft resolution measure to the Security Council.
“These sanctions, if adopted, would send an unambiguous and unyielding message to the DPRK regime. The world will not accept your proliferation. There will be consequences for your actions.”
February 25 announcement followed weeks of negotiations between the US and China that culminated in talks in Washington this week between Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
North Korea insists its missile program is purely scientific in nature, but the US, South Korea and even its ally China say such rocket launches are aimed at developing inter-continental ballistic missiles.
North Korea has used 70% of wages earned by workers at Kaesong complex for its weapons program and luxury goods for the elite, South Korea claims.
Last week, South Korea suspended its operations at the jointly-run industrial park following North Korea’s recent rocket and nuclear tests to cut off the money supply.
Pyongyang has called the shutdown “a declaration of war”.
Kaesong was one of the last points of co-operation between the two Koreas.
North Korea reacted to the shutdown by expelling all South Koreans from the complex and freezing the assets of South Korean companies. It has also vowed to cut key communication hotlines with South Korea.
Kaesong saw thousands of North Koreans working for South Korean businesses, making clothing, textiles, car parts and semi-conductors.
On February 14, South Korea’s unification ministry said in a statement the wages, in US dollars, had been paid to the government instead of directly to the workers.
“Any foreign currency earned in North Korea is transferred to the Workers’ Party, where the money is used to develop nuclear weapons or missiles, or to purchase luxury goods,” said Hong Yong-pyo, the unification minister, in a televised interview, referring to Pyongyang’s ruling communist party.
Hong Yong-pyo added that 70% of the money was kept by the North Korean government while workers were given tickets to buy food and essential items, and local currency. The South Korean government cited “multiple channels” as its sources for these claims but did not divulge how it had arrived at the percentage.
South Korea estimates about 616 billion Korean won ($508 million) had been paid to North Korea over the years.
Hong Yong-pyo was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying that South Korea did not suspend operations earlier at Kaesong because “the international community recognized its significance”, and it shut it down this time because “North Korea was only going to intensify its weapons development, and we needed to make a decisive move to alleviate our people’s security concerns”.
South Korea is shutting down its operations in the Kaesong industrial park jointly run by the two Koreas.
On February 10, South Korea announced it would suspend its activity there because of North Korea’s recent rocket launch.
Seoul had already restricted some South Korean activity there following Pyongyang’s nuclear test in January.
It is unclear how long the shutdown will last, which Seoul said was aimed at cutting off money North Korea used for nuclear and missile development.
About 124 mostly South Korean companies operate in Kaesong employing thousands of North Koreans.
The companies operating in Kaesong have started taking out easily-moveable equipment and stocks of finished goods and raw materials.
Many North Korean workers failed to turn up for work on February 11. Their South Korean managers cleared their desks and started to leave.
Opened in 2004, the Kaesong complex is the only point of co-operation between South Korea and North Korea.
In April 2013, North Korea shut down the complex for more than four months, after heightened tensions sparked by military drills by Seoul and Washington.
The current shutdown came as the US Senate voted unanimously in favor of tougher sanctions against North Korea.
The draft legislation targets any person or entity trading or financing anything related to weapons of mass destruction, conventional arms proliferation, North Korea’s rocket program, money laundering, narcotics trafficking, human rights abuses, activities that threaten US cyber security, and the import of luxury goods.
All were already sanctioned, but the measures aim to tighten the restrictions.
The bill also authorizes $50 million for radio broadcasts into North Korea and humanitarian aid programs.
The House of Representatives passed a similar bill last month. The two will now have to be reconciled into a final measure needing President Barack Obama’s sign-off.
Republican Senator Cory Gardner, one of the authors of the latest sanctions bill, criticized President Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience”.
“The situation in the Korea peninsula is at its most unstable point since the armistice,” he said, referring to the deal to end hostilities in the Korean War in 1953.
Republican senators and presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio interrupted campaigning to go back to Washington DC for the vote.
Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders did not return, although he did express his support for the bill in a statement.
According to US intelligence chief James Clapper, North Korea has restarted a plutonium production reactor that could provide a stockpile for nuclear weapons.
James Clapper also said North Korea had taken steps towards making an intercontinental ballistic missile system.
His announcement comes days after North Korea launched a long-range rocket, which critics say is a test of banned missile technology.
In September 2015, Pyongyang said its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon had resumed normal operations.
The reactor there has been the source of plutonium for its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea carried out its fourth nuclear test on January 6, 2016.
“We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor,” James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We further assess that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months.”
According to James Clapper, Pyongyang was also committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile “capable of posing a direct threat to the United States”.
James Clapper said it had publicly displayed a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile system and had taken “initial steps toward fielding this system, although the system has not been flight-tested”.
Experts have said that, when fully operational, the Yongbyon reactor could make one nuclear bomb’s worth of plutonium per year. About 4kg of plutonium is needed in order to make a bomb that would explode with a force of 20 kilotons.
Pyongyang has pledged several times to stop operations at Yongbyon and even destroyed the cooling tower in 2008 as part of a disarmament-for-aid deal.
In March 2013, following a row with the US and with new UN sanctions over a third nuclear test, it vowed to restart all facilities at Yongbyon.
Six-nation talks involving South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia aimed at ending the North’s nuclear programme have been stalled since 2009.
North Korea says it has made a device small enough to fit a nuclear warhead on to a missile, which it could launch at its enemies. However, US officials have cast doubt on the claim.
The North Korean satellite launched on February 7 is in orbit but it is not yet clear whether it is working, South Korea’s defense ministry has said.
North Korea has said the Kwangmyongsong-4 is a communications satellite and that February 7 launch was a complete success.
However, the move was internationally condemned as North Korea is banned under UN sanctions from using any ballistic missile technology.
The UN has vowed to impose further sanctions as punishment.
The US said on February 8 that this could include “a range of economic sanctions that would further isolate North Korea” and send a clear signal “that the resolve of the international community here is firm”.
The US has also said it will help South Korea deploy an advanced missile defense system as soon as possible, officials from the Pentagon have said.
South Korea’s defense ministry said the launch indicated North Korea now has long-range missiles with a 7,500-mile range, the Yonhap news agency reports.
It remains unclear whether it has developed the technology to make a missile re-enter the atmosphere, critical if it is to use the missile as weapon.
North Korea insists its space program is purely scientific in nature but the US, South Korea and even Pyongyang’s ally China say the rocket launches are aimed at developing inter-continental ballistic missiles.
South Korea’s defense ministry and Japanese media say North Korea appears to be preparing to launch a long-range missile.
Activity has been spotted at a launch station on the North Korea’west coast of the isolated nation.
Earlier this week Pyongyang announced it was planning to launch a satellite at some point in February.
North Korea’s announcement was internationally condemned – critics saying it is a cover to test banned missile technology.
The isolated country also conducted its fourth nuclear bomb test on January 6.
UN sanctions against North Korea prohibit it from carrying out any nuclear or ballistic missile tests.
South Korean state news agency Yonhap quoted defense ministry officials on February 4 as saying activity had been spotted at a site in Dongchang-ri, where the Sohae launching station is located.
Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun also said South Korea’s military was ramping up its air defense readiness so it was ready to intercept any missile or debris falling in its territory. The South has already ordered certain commercial flights to divert their routes.
Japan’s national broadcaster NHK, citing unnamed officials, also reported similar news about activity at Dongchang-ri, and added that a mobile launcher carrying a ballistic missile had also been seen moving near the east coast.
Separately, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said in a statement reported by Yonhap that any long-range missile launch by the North “should never be condoned as it poses a threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and the world”.
Park Geun-hye said the move was “a desperate measure” by the North to maintain its regime, and showed Pyongyang was not afraid of UN sanctions.
The US-based North Korean analysis website 38 North said recent satellite images show recent activity at Sohae suggesting launch preparations.
These include heightened activity at a building used to receive rocket stages, and a complex that appears ready to conduct engine tests.
North Korean state news agency KCNA reported on February 4 that the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea was holding a meeting among central and army committee members where they discussed how to “further strengthen” the party ahead of a rare political meeting scheduled for May.
Analysts say North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile activity could be a build-up to the upcoming seventh party congress – the first to be held since 1980 – where leader Kim Jong-un is expected to show off the nuclear program.
South Korea warns North Korea it will “pay a harsh price” if it goes ahead with its plan to launch a satellite into space.
North Korea announced on February 2 it intended to carry out the launch between February 8 and 25.
Critics say it is a cover for a test of ballistic missile technology.
Japan’s defense minister said he had issued an order to shoot down any missile that threatened to fall on Japanese territory.
The US has said any North Korean launch would be an “egregious violation” of a UN ban on missile launches by North Korea, and called for more sanctions.
North Korea has always said its space program is peaceful, but it is believed to be developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The communist country also conducted its fourth nuclear bomb test on January 6, drawing international condemnation.
Cho Tae-yang, a senior South Korean presidential official, said on February 3 that the satellite plan was considered a “direct challenge to the international community”.
“We warn that if North Korea proceeds with a long-range missile launch, the international society will ensure that the North pays searing consequences for it as the launch would constitute a grave threat to the Korean Peninsula, the region and the world,” he said.
Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe said the launch plan was a “serious provocation” and that he would work with other countries to “strongly demand” North Korea to stop.
China’s top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei, is currently visiting Pyongyang. A Chinese foreign ministry official told the South Korea news agency Yonhap that he planned to discuss the situation with officials there.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) said on February 2 that it had been notified of Pyongyang’s plans to launch a satellite.
However, North Korean media do not appear to have reported on the DPRK’s letter to the UN maritime agency so far.
US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel said the planned launch argued “even more strongly” for tougher UN sanctions.
Analysts say a new launch would allow North Korea to test some – but not all – of the technology needed for a long-range nuclear strike.
US officials had said last week that North Korea appeared to be preparing for a rocket launch, citing increased activity around the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, also known as Tongchang-ri.
Analysts say that the recent activity could be a build-up to the seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea due to be held in coming months, the first to be held since 1980, where leader Kim Jong-un is expected to show off North Korea’s nuclear program.
North Korea last conducted a long-range rocket launch in December 2012 successfully putting into orbit an object Pyongyang claimed was a communications satellite with the three-stage Unha-3 carrier.
The UN Security Council subsequently called it a “clear violation” of resolutions banning North Korea from missiles tests, and imposed sanctions.