Satellite images appear to show that North Korea has begun rebuilding a portion of a facility previously used to test long-range missile engines, analysts said Tuesday, raising potential questions about the future of US-North Korea negotiations.
The Center for Strategic Studies’ Beyond Parallel project and 38 North, both respected North Korea monitoring websites, each said it had observed activity at the Tongchang-ri satellite launch facility, which has been dormant since about August of last year.
“This renewed activity, taken just two days after the inconclusive Hanoi Summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, may indicate North Korean plans to demonstrate resolve in the face of U.S. rejection of North Korea’s demands at the summit to lift five U.N. Security Council sanctions enacted in 2016-2017,” the NBC report read.
The imagery photographed on March 2 shows activity that is “evident at the vertical engine test stand and launch pad’s rail-mounted rocket transfer structure.”
The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates North Korean nuclear infrastructure.
Tongchang-ri is one of the few known missile component development facilities inside North Korea. 38 North found that efforts to rebuild the site’s launch pad and missile engine test stand began sometime between February 16 and March 2, meaning work began either in the days before, during, or immediately after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump abruptly ended their second summit in Hanoi on February 28 without signing a deal.
Satellite launches use similar technology as ballistic missiles, and experts have long cautioned that North Korea’s attempts to shoot satellites into space could help them develop viable long-range ballistic missiles.
Beyond Parallel reported there has been “activity” at a vertical engine test pad and a launch pad’s rail-mounted rocket transfer structure. It concluded that the activity was “deliberate and purposeful.” The CIA declined to comment on the photographs.
President Trump and Kim Jong Un held their first historic summit in Singapore last June, and North Korea began dismantling its launching facility, according to the report.
“The facility has been dormant since August 2018, indicating the current activity is deliberate and purposeful,” the report stated, though other researchers said they witnessed low-level activity at the site during the otherwise dormant months.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” President Donald Trump said. “In fact, when I came home, they put out a statement that, actually, they were willing to do much less on the sanction front. But you see, that’s not what happened there.”
The initial meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un last year was an historical event, as no North Korean leader had ever met with a sitting president of the United States before then. After the meeting in Singapore, North Korea pledged to start dismantling its launch sites and also return the remains of Americans from the half century-old Korean War. Also, since then there had been no provocations of war or missile launching from the North Korean peninsula.
After a second meeting last week in Hanoi, Trump said he needed to walk away from any deals, and the activity in North Korea began shortly after that.