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A person watching news footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaking in Pyongyang in January 2021. Photo: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea appears to have resumed operations at a key nuclear reactor that is believed to produce fuel for nuclear weapons, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency said in a report dated Friday.

Why it matters: The move suggests North Korea is working to enlarge its nuclear arsenal after denuclearization talks with the U.S. stalled during the Trump administration.

What they're saying: The International Atomic Energy Agency said there have been indications of operations at the reactor in North Korea's main nuclear complex in Yongbyon since July 2021.

  • "There were no indications of reactor operation from early December 2018 to the beginning of July 2021. However, since early July 2021, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor," the IAEA said.
  • The nuclear watchdog said evidence also suggests North Korea operated a laboratory at Yongbyon for five months to extract plutonium, a key fuel for nuclear weapons, from nuclear waste.
  • It did not observe operations at a centrifuge facility used for enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels, though regular vehicular movements were seen.

Between the lines: The IAEA did not have direct access to Yongbyon because North Korea kicked its inspectors out of the country in 2009. The watchdog instead primarily used satellite imagery to monitor developments at the nuclear complex.

  • "The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable," IAEA said.

The big picture: Though President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in reaffirmed the importance of North Korea's denuclearization in May, North Korea has not reengaged with the U.S. for denuclearization talks since they broke down after the second summit between Kim Jong-un and former President Trump in 2019.

  • Kim said in June that his country should prepare for dialogue and especially "confrontation" with the U.S. in order "to protect the dignity of our state and its interests for independent development."

Go deeper: Biden extends sanctions against North Korea

Go deeper

Oct 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

After Gulf trip, U.S. Iran envoy to meet European allies

Malley meets Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Photo: Qatari Foreign Ministry handout via Getty

U.S. envoy for Iran Rob Malley will meet on Friday in Paris with senior diplomats from France, Germany and the U.K. to discuss the stalemate in the nuclear talks with Iran, sources briefed on the meeting told me. Malley will arrive in Paris after a four-day trip to the Gulf.

Why it matters: The nuclear talks have been stalled since June, and America’s Arab partners are extremely concerned by Iran’s nuclear advances in recent months. Several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, are engaging with Tehran to try to de-escalate regional tensions.

Updated Oct 20, 2021 - World

North Korea claims latest missile test new weapon launched from submarine

North Korean state media claims the country's military fired this missile on Tuesday. Photo: Korean Central News Agency

North Korean state media announced that a detected ballistic missile launch off its east coast on Tuesday was a newly developed weapon test-fired from a submarine.

Why it matters: Pyongyang's latest in a series of recent missile launches into the sea happened hours after U.S. officials emphasized their commitment to restart negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which have stalled since talks broke down during the Trump administration, AP notes.

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest — triggering widespread power outages and flooding.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.