SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea announced plans Tuesday to restart a mothballed nuclear reactor, the latest in a series of provocations by its leader, Kim Jong Un, to elicit a muted response from U.S. officials, who believe they can wait out Kim's threats until he realizes that his belligerent behavior will not force South Korea or the United States to make any concessions.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said North Korea's plan to restart the reactor would be a "provocative act" in "direct violation of their international obligations." Kerry reaffirmed the determination of the United States to defend its ally, South Korea.
U.S. officials still worry about the consequences of any miscalculation, given the hair-trigger tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The top U.S. commander in South Korea, Gen. James D. Thurman, described the situation as "tense" and "volatile" in an interview with ABC News.
But a senior official predicted to the New York Times that North Korea would eventually back down, as Kim's need for food aid and hard currency outweighed the domestic political gains from his threats to shoot missiles at U.S. cities.
Still, the announcements by the North were troubling on a couple of levels: The plan to restart the reactor reverses gains from a short-lived 2007 nuclear disarmament deal with the United States, and its plan to use a uranium-enrichment plant on the site for the weapons program gives it two ways of producing fuel for bombs, since the reactor produces plutonium.