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What is North Korea thinking?

In vowing to restart its nuclear-weapons program, the pariah nation could be trying to win concessions from the US or it could be setting out a new strategy.

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The Obama administration demanded Tuesday that North Korea "cease its provocative threats" towards the international community – in particular its fresh vow to restart its nuclear programs. The response suggests that, so far, the White House is assuming that the pariah country is still interested in its standing with the international community.

Pyongyang is threatening to kick out international inspectors and fire up its shuttered nuclear facilities in protest against a UN Security Council statement Sunday that condemned its recent missile launch. The threat is seen by many experts as being in the same vein as the numerous tantrums the isolated North Korean regime has thrown in recent years. This one could be testing the US to see what gains can be eked out of the new administration.

Yet some longtime Korea analysts believe something different may be going on this time. The swiftness and comprehensiveness of North Korea's response to a relatively soft UN reprimand suggests a new strategy may be taking hold in Pyongyang – perhaps one embracing even greater isolation.

"We have to ask: Do they have a different objective now? Do they truly want to walk away from the commitment to give up nuclear weapons and a goal of achieving better relations with the US?" asks Jim Walsh, a North Korea expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

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