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North Korea has restarted work on ICBM production site, report says

Satellite imagery shows movement of cargo vehicles around a factory in Pyongyang that produced ICBMs capable of reaching the U.S. mainland

by David Gilbert
Mar 7 2019, 3:10pm

New missile-related activity has been identified inside North Korea at a site previously used to construct intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland, South Korean media is reporting.

The news came shortly after President Donald Trump said he’d be “very disappointed” if reports earlier this week of rebuilding at another North Korea site linked to its missile program were verified.

Satellite imagery shows the recent movement of cargo vehicles around a factory at Sanumdong in Pyongyang, which produced North Korea’s first ICBMs capable of reaching the U.S., two South Korean newspapers reported Thursday, citing an intelligence briefing given to lawmakers in Seoul earlier this week.

South Korean spy chief Suh Hoon also informed lawmakers that the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon — which Kim offered to dismantle during his negotiations with Trump in Hanoi last week — has continued to operate as normal.

The South Korean spy chief says a facility that Kim offered to dismantle during negotiations with Trump in Hanoi has continued to operate as usual.

On Tuesday, satellite imagery published by two U.S. think tanks showed that North Korea had also begun rebuilding work at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in the northwest of the country, a site that was previously used to test rocket engines.

I would be very disappointed if that were happening,” Trump told reporters Wednesday regarding Sohae. “It’s a very early report. We’re the ones that put it out. But I would be very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim [Jong Un], and I don’t think I will be, but we’ll see what happens.”

Trump did not elaborate on his claim that “we’re the ones that put it out,” but South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies do work closely together.

The Sanumdong site is where North Korea produced the Hwasong-15 ICBM, which is capable of traveling more than 8,000 miles, meaning it could hit any part of the mainland U.S. — including the White House.

But Sanumdong is also where North Korea develops its satellite launch vehicles, and some experts believe the recent activity here and at Sohae point to a possible space launch in the coming months and not a restart of the missile testing program.

The revelations about new activity at some of North Korea’s military sites comes just days after the aborted summit in Hanoi, where Trump walked away from the negotiating table after he said Kim demanded that all sanctions be lifted before further concessions were made.

New details about the failed Hanoi negotiations emerged Wednesday when CNN reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was stood up in the Vietnam capital by North Korea’s lead envoy on the nuclear negotiations, Kim Yong Chol, the night before the summit began.

The CNN report also revealed that Kim made a last-ditch attempt to keep Trump at the negotiating table, by offering to dismantle all facilities at the sprawling, three-square-mile Yongbyon site, a proposal the U.S. side turned down.

In a rare press conference after the summit, Pyongyang pointedly disputed Trump’s claims that Kim was seeking complete sanctions removal by the U.S. — highlighting a possible breakdown in trust between the two sides.

“The apparent restarting of nuclear ambitions by the DPRK is most definitely reactionary to what has happened in Hanoi,” Colin Alexander, an expert in political communications at Nottingham Trent University, told VICE News. “The atmosphere and demeanor surrounding U.S.-DPRK relations changed markedly from a positive spin after Pyongyang challenged American accounts of how and why talks had broken down.”

But despite concerns among some that North Korea is ramping up its missile program activity, we are unlikely to see the White House come out and condemn Pyongyang until another red line is crossed.

“I think that we will see statements from President Trump or other U.S. officials along the lines that these reports are regrettable, but that it is too soon to tell what is the meaning of these actions by North Korea,” Ramon Pacheco Pardo, an expert on North Korea at King's College London, told VICE News. “The administration's red line is a nuclear or missile test [and] any test by North Korea would lead not only the U.S. but also South Korea to halt the current diplomatic process.”

Cover: In this June 12, 2018, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, right, makes a statement before saying goodbye to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after their meetings at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)