Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, director of intelligence for the US Indo-Pacific Command, revealed to attendees of a virtual technology and security event this week that the Pentagon is looking into reports suggesting that North Korea’s recent increase in nuclear activity may be a bargaining tactic to get US President Joe Biden to ease sanctions.  

“We have our eye on this. And it is deeply concerning where North Korea wants to go,” the US military official said, as reported by Reuters

The administration is also reviewing the current US-North Korea policy at the moment, Studeman added. 

“The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable,” the IAEA director-general said following a meeting with the agency’s board of governors on Monday. 

Grossi added the IAEA would enhance its readiness “to play its essential role in verifying North Korea’s nuclear programme.” 

Referring to Grossi’s statements, Studeman highlighted “the IAEA board of governors issued a notice that there had been evidence of the Koreans reprocessing perhaps nuclear fuel.” 

The US military official went on to float that the alleged nuclear program could be an attempt to flex their nuclear capabilities and get Biden to readdress previous sanctions. 

“If that is true, then that could put us into a different level of tension with Korea,” he said. “This may be the start of something that’s designed to influence the Biden administration; it may be the first way of getting the new administration’s attention here, where perhaps [North Korea] would use this reprocessing development as a bargaining chip for sanctions relief of some sort.” 

Olli Heinonen, former IAEA deputy director-general for safeguards, published an op-ed in December 2020 claiming that satellite imagery of Kangson, a North Korean facility suspected to be a uranium-enrichment plant, appeared to be a more “valuable asset” than previously imagined. 

“The available evidence suggests that Kangson is not a uranium enrichment plant, although it is likely still tied to North Korea’s uranium enrichment program, just in a different role,” he said. “Its characteristics are consistent with a large-scale machine tool workshop suitable for the production and testing of centrifuge components.”

Furthermore, a UN report observed by Reuters in February alleged the DPRK developed its ballistic missile and nuclear programs throughout 2020, when US President Donald Trump was in office.