North Korea has restarted its nuclear facilities to harvest weapons-grade plutonium, an official said Saturday, in an escalation of the communist state's standoff with the international community over its nuclear and missile programs.
The move "will contribute to bolstering the nuclear deterrence for self-defense in every way to cope with the increasing military threats from the hostile forces," the North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said in comments carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
The announcement comes as diplomatic efforts to bring Pyongyang back to nuclear negotiations, which have been stalled since December, are deadlocked.
North Korea has expelled international nuclear monitors, vowed to restart its atomic program and quit disarmament negotiations to protest the U.N. Security Council condemnation of its April 5 rocket launch.
The North says the rebuke was unfair because the rocket was carrying a satellite. But the U.S. and others believe it was a test of long-range missile technology.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday renewed his country's opposition to sanctions against North Korea for its rocket launch and called for efforts to revive the stalled talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear programs.
"Sanctions are not constructive," he said in a news conference with his South Korean counterpart.
Hours later in New York, a Security Council committee approved new sanctions on three major North Korean companies in response to the communist nation's rocket launch.
The new measures require nations that have dealings with the companies to freeze their assets. The committee actions are final and do not require additional approval.
Lavrov flew to Seoul after his two-day trip to Pyongyang failed to persuade North Korean officials to end their boycott of the nuclear negotiations.