So far this year alone has seen North Korea launch at least 18 rounds of missiles, which included its first intercontinental ballistic missile tests since 2017, in significant timing given also the world's attention has been focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On Monday for the first time this year, the US and South Korea "answered" Pyongyang's latest Sunday launches of eight missiles by firing precisely eight missiles of their own. Sunday's launches were the biggest single-day testing event all year. On Tuesday US and South Korean forces have continued a 'show of force' by flying dozens of fighter jets over waters off the Korean Peninsula.
The flights also included aircraft from Japan. The Associated Press describes, "Extending the countries’ joint displays of military might, four U.S. F-16 fighter jets flew in formation with 16 South Korean planes — including F-35A stealth fighters — over waters off South Korea’s eastern coast, an exercise aimed at demonstrating an ability to quickly respond to North Korean provocations, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said."
"The United States and Japan conducted a separate drill involving six aircraft — four Japanese F-15 fighters and two American F-16s — above waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, Japan’s Defense Ministry said," the report adds.
Meanwhile, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is in Seoul for talks with her Korean counterparts. She took the opportunity to again warn Pyongyang against holding a nuclear test, which hasn't occurred in a half-decade. She said there would be a "swift and forceful" counterresponse of the north moves forward with conducting a nuclear explosion.
The warning appeared timed and coordinated with the larger than usual joint flights among US allies in regional waters. Without doubt it got Pyongyang's attention, though it remains to be seen whether there will be escalation or a walking back of ratcheting tensions.
"Any nuclear test would be in complete violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. There would be a swift and forceful response to such a test," Sherman said. "We continue to urge Pyongyang to cease its destabilizing and provocative activities and choose the path of diplomacy."
She and South Korean representatives, including Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong, are expected to discuss North Korea's nukes with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo on Wednesday.
Within the last month Western media reports have begun sounding the alarm over resumed construction and expansion at North Korean nuclear sites.
While not confirmed, the allegations that Pyongyang is seeking to revive some long-dormant sites are based on open-source satellite imagery, as CNN previously detailed:
North Korea appears to have resumed construction at a long-dormant nuclear reactor in recent weeks that, if completed, would dramatically increase its capacity to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, according to new satellite images obtained by CNN and a source familiar with recent US intelligence reporting on the matter.
The satellite images, which were captured by Maxar during April and May of this year, show North Korea has restarted construction of the second reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear complex after years of inactivity, experts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who analyzed the photos said.
The reactor is about 10 times larger than the existing nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which has been operating since the late 1980s.
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On Monday, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi issued a briefing at a quarterly meeting of the IAEA, saying that work at the north's main nuclear site at Yongbyon is advancing, amid fears of a return to nuclear saber-rattling by the Kim Jong Un regime.