International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi said on Monday that North Korea’s nuclear program is going “full steam ahead”.

“In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, (the) nuclear program goes full steam ahead with work on plutonium separation, uranium enrichment and other activities,” Grossi told an annual meeting of his agency’s member states, according to Reuters.

The IAEA said in a report this past August that North Korea appears to have restarted a nuclear reactor that is widely believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.

In June, the UN atomic watchdog said that North Korea’s nuclear activities remain “a cause for serious concern”.

Grossi’s remarks follow three tests of ballistic missiles that North Korea carried out in recent days. Most recently, Pyongyang said it successfully launched ballistic missiles from a train for the first time and was continuing to bolster its defenses.

In addition, satellite images published last week show North Korea is expanding a uranium enrichment plant at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex.

North Korea, which has conducted many missile tests in recent years, restarted those tests after denuclearization talks with the United States came to a halt.

Former US President Donald Trump tried to reach an agreement with North Korea while in office. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump met in Hanoi in 2019 for a summit that left nuclear talks at a standstill.

The pair had met three times since June 2018 but made little progress towards denuclearization.

After Trump left office, the Biden administration reached out to North Korea but the country did not respond to those overtures.

In Biden’s first policy speech to Congress, he said nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran posed threats that would be addressed through “diplomacy and stern deterrence”.

Responding to that speech, North Korea dismissed the idea of talks with Washington, saying Biden’s speech was “intolerable” and “a big blunder.”

Following the North’s first test this week, the United States said it still remains prepared to engage with North Korea on denuclearization.

IAEA chief: North Korea’s nuclear program going 'full steam ahead'

Josh Toupos

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