A day after President Donald Trump said he wasn’t concerned with a lack of visible progress on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons, a report suggests that the North Korean regime is doing just that.
Washington-based website 38 North, which offers analysis and news on North Korea, published satellite images that it says show the dismantling of an important satellite launch facility, based on images from July 20 and July 22.
The Sohae Satellite Launching Station, which sits near North Korea’s west coast, has been the country’s main space launch facility for over five years, according to 38 North.
It has lain dormant since last December, but is still intact, and a new building was being built at the site since as recently as this March.
On July 20, the images seemed to show a crane and several vehicles at the Sohae launch pad, and a rail-mounted processing structure with its top removed.
At the Sohae vertical engine test stand, the test stand structure appeared partially demolished and a rail-mounted environmental shelter had been razed and removed. Some older fuel/oxidizer bunkers appeared to be in the process of being razed.
Two days later, the vehicles and cranes were still at the launch pad, but the rail-mounted processing structure had been further dismantled.
The test stand had been completely demolished, although the older fuel/oxidizer bunkers seemed to have stayed the same.
“Since these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence-building measure on the part of North Korea,” wrote 38 North analyst Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., the CEO and founder of KPA Associates LLC, which specializes in forensic architecture.
If verified, the development is significant, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that North Korea was trying to evade oil sanctions meant to force it to negotiate on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
In the first five months of the year, North Korea made 89 illegal ship-to-ship oil transfers to get around international sanctions on oil imports, Pompeo said.
Pompeo called on the world leaders to keep up the pressure on North Korea, saying that if sanctions are loosened, “the prospects for the successful denuclearization are diminished.”
Trump said he remained “upbeat” about the prospects of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and added that “progress is happening.”
Addressing a July 22 article in The Washington Post, Trump refuted the article’s claim that he is “frustrated” by the lack of progress and has “fumed” privately to his aides about it.
“A rocket has not been launched by North Korea in 9 months. Likewise, no Nuclear Tests. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy. But the Fake News is saying, without ever asking me (always anonymous sources), that I am angry because it is not going fast enough. Wrong, very happy!” he wrote in a July 23 tweet.
A Rocket has not been launched by North Korea in 9 months. Likewise, no Nuclear Tests. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy. But the Fake News is saying, without ever asking me (always anonymous sources), that I am angry because it is not going fast enough. Wrong, very happy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
Trump seemed to acknowledge the report by 38 North today during a speech in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 24.
“We’re all pursuing the denuclearization of North Korea and a new future of prosperity, security, and peace on the Korean Peninsula and all of Asia,” Trump said at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention.
“New images just today show that North Korea has begun the process of dismantling a key missile site and we appreciate that. We had a fantastic meeting with Chairman Kim, and it seems to be going very well.”