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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

North Korea 'rebuilding rocket launch site' after US talks

Researchers say satellite images taken days after talks between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump show work at Tongchang-ri site

The Sohae site in Tongchang-ri in North Korea was used for satellite launches in 2012 and 2016 that critics said were cover for missile tests AP
The Sohae site in Tongchang-ri in North Korea was used for satellite launches in 2012 and 2016 that critics said were cover for missile tests AP

North Korea may be rebuilding a rocket launch site it had pledged to dismantle, after talks between leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump collapsed last week.

Researchers released new satellite images, taken two days after the Hanoi summit ended abruptly without a deal on denuclearisation, which they claim show “deliberate and purposeful” rebuilding at the Sohae missile site in Tongchang-ri.

Mr Kim had promised to close the site at a summit last year with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

But researchers from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said an analysis of the satellite images suggested there was activity at the site’s vertical engine test stand and the launch pad’s rail-mounted rocket transfer structure.

“This facility had been dormant since August 2018, indicating the current activity is deliberate and purposeful,” the centre said.

Director of monitoring group 38 North, Joel Wit, said the new evidence did not necessarily mean North Korea was getting ready to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“Aside from the fact that [North Korea] has never tested an ICBM from Sohae – it’s a space vehicle launch site – preparation for any launch would require a wide range of activities not observed in the imagery,” he told AFP.

The second summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump broke down last week after differences about how far Pyongyang was willing to limit its nuclear programme before it was granted relief from a US sanctions blacklist.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Tuesday that North Korea could face more sanctions if it was not committed to giving up its nuclear weapons programme “and everything associated with it”.

The Sohae Satellite Launching Station launch pad features what researchers describe as showing the partially rebuilt rail-mounted rocket transfer structure, on March 2, 2019. CSIS/Beyond Parallel/DigitalGlobe 2019 via Reuters
The Sohae Satellite Launching Station launch pad features what researchers describe as showing the partially rebuilt rail-mounted rocket transfer structure, on March 2, 2019. CSIS/Beyond Parallel/DigitalGlobe 2019 via Reuters

“If they’re not willing to do it, then I think President Trump has been very clear ... they’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them and we’ll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact,” he told Fox Business Network.

Taking a softer tone, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that he was hopeful Washington would be able to send a delegation to North Korea in coming weeks.

Satellite launches from the Sohae site in 2012 and 2016 were suspected by critics of being cover for testing ballistic missiles and were widely condemned by the international community.

But analysts said the site had never been used to launch an ICBM and there was no evidence to suggest a test was imminent.

Updated: March 6, 2019 05:59 PM

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