North Korea appears to be planning the new launch of a missile or satellite just weeks after a summit with Donald Trump about denuclearization came to an abrupt end with no deal in sight.
As the BBC reported, satellite images of a facility near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang shows activity that suggest preparations for a launch from a site known as Sanumdong. This report comes just days after another suggested that North Korea had rebuilt another main rocket launch site at Sohae.
Donald Trump had been pushing for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons operation and cease all weapons testing, at times bragging that North Korea had done both of these things. But on Friday, Trump struck a more uncertain tone as he expressed hope that North Korea would not go back to weapons testing.
“I would be surprised in a negative way if he did anything that was not per our understanding. But we’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “I would be very disappointed if I saw testing.”
The new report noted that cranes and other construction equipment could be seen at the Sanumdong site, similar to what was found days before at Sohae.
“When you put all that together, that’s really what it looks like when the North Koreans are in the process of building a rocket,” Jeffrey Lewis, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said in an interview with NPR on Friday.
But Lewis also said the construction did not necessarily point to a weapon launch, noting that it could also be the launch of a satellite as the site in question does not appear equipped for a long-range missile.
“I think U.S. foreign policy has been far too obsessed with North Korean space launches,” he noted.
BBC correspondent Laura Bicker reported that North Korea may be planning a strategic missile launch in order to pressure the United States into offering a better deal following the failed summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. At that summit, North Korea had offered to end its military testing but in exchange asked for sanctions relief to be put in place ahead of time.
JUST IN: North Korea may be preparing to launch a missile or space rocket, based on satellite images shared exclusively with NPR. https://t.co/OllSw7ZYHf— NPR (@NPR) March 8, 2019
North Korea could be moving quickly toward a launch, the BBC report noted, as the satellite images suggest that there is “rapid progress” being made to repair the rocket launch pad.
The United States has warned that North Korea could face new or harsher sanctions if it does not make progress toward denuclearization.