The suspected reactivation of North Korea’s controversial Yongbyon nuclear reactor poses a serious challenge to the US, according to Germany’s former ambassador to Pyongyang, Thomas Schaefer.
“I believe that North Korea wants to slowly raise tensions again,” the retired former diplomat said in an interview with dpa in Seoul on Friday.
The fact that the reactor had apparently been brought online again was a step in this direction, he said, referring to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency published last week, which states that the reactor has been back in operation since July.
With a capacity of only five megawatts, the reactor is small, but crucially, it can supply plutonium for the production of nuclear weapons. North Korea is already under strict international sanctions because of its nuclear weapons programme.
“In the case of North Korea one has to start with its long-term goals, and those have been military-political goals… since Kim Jong Un’s accession to power,” Schaefer said.
These goals include an end to the joint military manoeuvres carried out annually by the US and South Korea, “and then, as a bigger step, the withdrawal of American troops.” Other demands, such as sanctions relief, are far less important to Pyongyang, Schaefer added.
The US currently has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a deterrent to potential threats from North Korea.
Schaefer, 68, served as Germany’s ambassador to Pyongyang for a total of eight years.