US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One prior to departure from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, February 25, 2019, as he travels to Hanoi, Vietnam for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
AFP/Saul Loeb
Trump warns Kim over 'rebuilding' of North Korea rocket site
Sebastian Smith (Agence France-Presse) - March 7, 2019 - 11:50am

WASHINGTON, United States — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he'd be "very, very disappointed" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if reports that work is underway to rebuild a long-range rocket site are confirmed.

Speaking to reporters, Trump said "it's too early to see" if the information about work at the North Korean site is true. Warning he'd be disappointed, he added: "I don't think I will be, but we'll see what happens."

Trump and Kim met last week in Vietnam to negotiate on getting rid of North Korea's nuclear arsenal, but the summit broke up early with no progress.

Researchers say that rebuilding of the facility in question has been underway since the summit and may have started before the Vietnam meeting.

"This facility had been dormant since August 2018, indicating the current activity is deliberate and purposeful," said researchers at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Researchers said that the activity may be intended to "demonstrate resolve in the face of US rejection" of the North's request for an easing of sanctions in return for some dismantlement of nuclear weapons infrastructure.

Kim had agreed to shutter the Sohae missile-testing site at a summit with the South's President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang, as part of confidence-building measures, and satellite pictures in August had suggested workers were already dismantling an engine test stand at the facility.

But CSIS said building activity is now "evident" at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, from where Pyongyang launched satellites in 2012 and 2016.

North Korea was later banned by the UN security council from carrying out the space launches, as some of its technology was similar to that used for intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.

Preparing for launch vehicles?

The respected Washington-based 38 North project, another independent research website specializing in North Korea, also reported building work at the Sohae facility, based on commercial satellite imagery.

According to 38 North, the efforts to rebuild structures at the Sohae facility started sometime between February 16 and March 2 this year.

The pictures show a moving structure that had been used to carry launch vehicles to a launch pad on rails has been restored, it said.

"Two support cranes are observed at the building, the walls have been erected and a new roof added. At the engine test stand, it appears that the engine support structure is being reassembled," the 38 North reported. 

In a briefing to parliamentarians this week, Seoul's spy agency said it had detected signs of work at the site.

'Timing matters'

Joel Wit, the director of the 38 North project, cautioned that the evidence was not necessarily "consistent with preparations for an ICBM test."

"Aside from the fact that (North Korea) has never tested an ICBM from Sohae -- it's a space vehicle launch site -- preparation for any launch would require a wide range of activities not observed in the imagery," Wit said.

However, a rocket engine test could be performed there and that would send "a really strong signal" to Washington, Wit said.

"A lot depends on how the US reacts to what's going on," Wit said. "The danger here is that we could start spiraling downward as each side takes steps and undermine the process that's been in place since last spring."

No deal in Hanoi

Impoverished and isolated North Korea conducted its first successful nuclear test in 2006 followed by a string of increasingly successful ICBM launches. 

In 2017, it claimed it had become capable of fitting a viable nuclear weapon on an ICBM that could reach as far as the United States' eastern seaboard.

In response, the UN Security Council later banned the North's main exports -- coal and other mineral resources, fisheries and textile products -- to cut off its access to hard currency.

At their groundbreaking first summit in Singapore last year, Kim and Trump produced a vague statement on the "denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

There were high expectations for Kim and Trump's second meeting in Hanoi, but no agreement was reached. Despite the stalemate, both sides said they were open to further talks.

John Bolton, the US national security adviser, however said on Tuesday that the US would look at "ramping those sanctions up" if Pyongyang did not give up its nuclear weapons program.

DONALD TRUMP KIM JONG UN NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR POWER UNITED STATES
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 10, 2019 - 12:21pm

The United States formally concluded that North Korea ordered the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, a half-brother and potential rival to ruler Kim Jong-Un, with the VX nerve agent.

"This public display of contempt for universal norms against chemical weapons use further demonstrates the reckless nature of North Korea and underscores that we cannot afford to tolerate a North Korean WMD program of any kind," US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

The finding triggered another layer of US economic sanctions against Pyongyang, just as South Korea reported that the regime is ready for talks to end a nuclear standoff.

May 10, 2019 - 12:21pm

US President Donald Trump says that "nobody's happy" after North Korea raised the pressure over the future of their deadlocked nuclear negotiations by launching two short-range missiles.

Trump's second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February broke up without an agreement or even a joint statement as the two failed to reach a deal on what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for relief from sanctions imposed over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes. — AFP

May 10, 2019 - 9:17am

US President Donald Trump says he is studying the situation in North Korea "very seriously," after Pyongyang welcomed a US envoy's visit to Seoul by firing two missiles.

"We're looking at it very seriously right now. They were smaller missiles, short range missiles — nobody's happy about it," Trump told reporters.

"The relationship continues — but we'll see what happens," Trump added. "I know they want to negotiate, they're talking about negotiating, but I don't think they are ready to negotiate."

— AFP

May 4, 2019 - 10:58am

The United States is watching North Korea's actions after the South Korean military said Pyongyang had launched short-range missiles into the sea, the White House says.

"We are aware of North Korea's actions tonight. We will continue to monitor as necessary," Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says in a statement.

The launch would be North Korea's first such action in more than a year as it seeks to up pressure on Washington with nuclear talks deadlocked. — AFP

April 26, 2019 - 6:03pm

Kim Jong Un has accused the US of acting in "bad faith" in talks on its nuclear arsenal, North Korean state media says as he left Russia following his first summit with President Vladimir Putin. 

Kim's armoured train departed the Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok a day after talks that saw Putin back the North's need for "security guarantees" in its standoff with the United States. — AFP

April 25, 2019 - 9:15am

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he expected "bumpy" talks ahead with North Korea but that he still hoped to reach a potentially landmark denuclearization deal.

US President Donald Trump in February cut short a summit in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with Pyongyang later blaming Pompeo for a pushing a hard line and calling for his exclusion from future negotiations. — AFP

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