Seoul (dpa) – The alleged restart of the controversial North Korean nuclear reactor at Yongbyon poses a challenge for the United States according to the assessment of former German diplomat Thomas Schäfer.
“I think North Korea wants to slowly increase tensions again,” the former ambassador to Pyongyang said in an interview with the German news agency in Seoul. The fact that the reactor has apparently been restarted is a step in that direction.
Schäfer was referring to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week that the Yongbyon nuclear center reactor appeared to be operational again in early July. With a power of only five megawatts, the reactor is small, but it can supply plutonium for the production of atomic bombs. North Korea is subject to severe international sanctions because of its nuclear weapons program.
With Yongbyon, according to Schäfer, North Korea is once again turning its attention to the offer made by leader Kim Jong Un, which he made during his summit with former US President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February 2019. North Korea was apparently prepared, under certain conditions, to shut down all of Yongbyon or cede parts of it.
Trump’s offer didn’t go far enough at the time, and the summit was prematurely canceled without a final declaration. Washington demands that North Korea completely dismantle its nuclear arsenal.
“With North Korea, you have to start with the long-term goals, and the goals have been military-political goals for several years, in fact since Kim Jong Un took office,” Schäfer said. This includes the end of the joint maneuvers of the United States and South Korea, “then, as a major step, the withdrawal of American troops in order to weaken South Korean-American relations.” Other demands such as the relaxation of sanctions played a secondary role. Economic incentives are of much less value to Pyongyang than the international community often thinks.
“The North Koreans cheered on Trump,” said Schäfer, (68), who spent eight years in Pyongyang during his diplomatic career. Trump had already mentioned the withdrawal of American troops stationed in South Korea during his election campaign. “North Koreans are fully betting.” With current US President Joe Biden, however, that won’t be possible. North Korea recently responded negatively to US offers to unconditionally start new negotiations.