Alarm at North Korean missile plant activity
Movement of cargo vehicles was spotted recently around a factory at Sanumdong in Pyongyang, which produced North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the US, South Korean newspapers reported, citing lawmakers briefed by the National Intelligence Service.
Spy chief Suh Hoon told the lawmakers he viewed the activity as missile-related. He said North Korea continued to run its uranium enrichment facility at the main Yongbyon nuclear complex after the first summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June in Singapore.
The reports came after the leaders’ second summit in Hanoi broke down last week over differences on the limits North Korea was ready to put on its nuclear programme and how willing the US was to ease sanctions.
The Sanumdong factory produced the Hwasong-15 ICBM, which can fly more than 13000km. After its test flight in late 2017, North Korea declared the completion of its “state nuclear force,” before pursuing talks with South Korea and the US last year.
South Korea’s presidential office said it was closely monitoring North Korea’s activities with the US.
On Tuesday, two US think tanks and Seoul’s spy agency said work was under way to restore part of the North’s Sohae rocket launch site that Kim, at the Singapore summit, vowed to dismantle. “I would be very disappointed if that were happening,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday.
White House national security adviser John Bolton said yesterday that Trump was open to additional talks with North Korea over denuclearisation.
“The president’s obviously open to talking again. We’ll see when that might be scheduled or how it might work out,” Bolton said.
He also said it was too soon to make a determination on the reports of North Korea’s missile activities.
“We’re going to study the situation carefully. As the president said, it would be very disappointing if they were taking this direction.”
US research body, Washington-based Stimson Centre’s 38 North, said photos from Wednesday showed the rail-mounted transfer building used to move rockets at the site was complete, cranes had been removed from the launch pad and the transfer building moved to the end of the pad.
“But we don’t draw any conclusions from that besides they are restoring the facility,” said Joel Wit of 38 North. “There is no evidence to suggest anything more than that.”
A US government source said the work at Sohae probably began before the summit, which was preceded by lower-level talks in February.
Some analysts see the work at Sohae as aimed at pressing Washington to agree to a deal, rather than as a definite move to resume tests.
The source, who did not want to be identified, said North Korea’s plan to rebuild at the site could have been designed to offer a demonstration of good faith by conspicuously stopping again if a summit pact was struck, while furnishing a sign of defiance or resolve if the meeting failed.
Bolton had earlier warned of new sanctions if North Korea does not scrap its weapons programme. Reuters