North Korea appears to be rebuilding a previously-dormant nuclear site, based on intelligence from South Korean aircraft/spacecraft as well as conclusions gleaned from a private watchdog group, NBC News is reporting. The new activity at the site comes days after Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un failed to come to an agreement at their Hanoi summit.
Both the South Korean intelligence community and the private organization Beyond Parallel have concluded that activity is taking place at the once-dormant Sohae Satellite Launching Station. The station, which is used to launch satellites but can also be used for launching long-range nuclear missiles, had been left alone (possibly, depending on competing reports) for the past few months. But now, days after Trump and Kim failed to reach an agreement on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, the evidence seems to suggest that the site is being put back into use.
Images from South Korean intelligence and analyzed by Beyond Parallel purportedly show that the site has been the scene of “the vertical engine test stand and the launch pad’s rail-mounted rocket transfer structure.” That movement, suggests Beyond Parallel analyst Victor Cha, shows that the site is being readied for nuclear testing.
“The activity they are undertaking now is consistent with preparations for a test.”
However, Cha is also quick to note that there is no indication, as of this writing, that there is a prototype missile at the site nor that one is going to be placed there soon.
1/ Satellite imagery acquired by @BeyondParallel on March 2, 2019, shows that North Korea is pursuing a rapid rebuilding of the long-range rocket site at Sohae (Tongchang-ri) in the aftermath of the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi.
— CSIS (@CSIS) March 6, 2019
“They’ve already tested a few of these [prototype nuclear missiles] and it looks like they’re preparing the launch pad for another act.”
Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un famously met in Singapore in June 2018 for a historic summit. Following the meeting, Trump declared the meeting a raging success, with Kim reportedly agreeing to denuclearization in exchange for certain concessions from the U.S.
Whether or not Kim kept up with that promise is a matter of dispute. For example, North Korea watchdog group 38 North said as recently as October 2018, just months after the Singapore summit, that there was activity at the Sohae site.
When Trump and Kim met for a second summit in Hanoi over February 27-28, Trump returned without an agreement, saying the sticking point was over easing sanctions against North Korea. However, he said that he still believes Kim’s promise that there will be no work on nuclear weapons in the North.
“The one thing we have, though, is we have no testing, no missiles going up, no rockets going up. No nuclear testing.”