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: November 5, 2019 - 11:25am

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.

November 5, 2019 - 11:25am

Pyongyang says the possibility of talks between nuclear-armed North Korea and Washington is "narrowing" after the US State Department reaffirmed its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Last month the North walked away from working-level nuclear talks with the US in Sweden, saying it was disappointed at the lack of "new and creative" solutions offered by Washington.

The process has been deadlocked since the Hanoi summit between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump broke up in February amid disagreement over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return. — AFP

October 27, 2019 - 11:14am

North Korea says Sunday the United States must not exploit the "close personal relations" between Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump as negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal remain deadlocked.

Talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalled since a second summit between Trump and Kim in Hanoi in February broke down without an agreement.

The two have since blamed each other for the failure of the summit, with the North demanding the US bring forward a "new method" by the end of the year.

Kim Yong Chol, who served as the North's counterpart to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo until the collapse of the Hanoi meeting, credited Trump and Kim's close ties for salvaging the diplomacy, but warned they were not enough.

"There is a limit to everything," Kim, now the chairman of the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency. -- Agence France-Presse

October 24, 2019 - 1:08pm

A top Pyongyang official says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump have a "special" relationship, echoing remarks this week by the American head of state.

Analysts said the comments were an indication Pyongyang still hoped to reach a deal directly with Trump over its nuclear programmes, despite Washington's longstanding insistence it give up its weapons before sanctions are lifted.

In a statement carried by Pyongyang's official news agency KCNA, foreign ministry adviser Kim Kye Gwan says he had met the North Korean leader "a few days ago", and "he said that the relationship between him and President Trump is special". — AFP

October 22, 2019 - 1:01pm

The United States was awarded ownership of a North Korean cargo ship that was seized for violating international sanctions, the US Justice Department says.

The Wise Honest — the first North Korean vessel to be seized by the US for sanctions violation — was caught carrying a $3 million shipment of coal in Indonesian waters last year and later handed over to the US.

The latest ruling by the Southern District of New York finalizes the US government's seizure of the North Korean vessel and ends its use in a "criminal scheme," the Justice Department says in a statement.

"This order of forfeiture sinks the Wise Honest's career as one of North Korea's largest sanctions-busting vessels," says Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. — AFP

September 27, 2019 - 5:07pm

North Korea says US aggression and an obsession with disarmament mean another summit between Washington and Pyongyang is looking doubtful, even as it praised US President Donald Trump as "bold" and "wise".

Washington has "done nothing for the implementing the joint statement" from the first US-North Korea summit held in Singapore last year, Kim Kye Gwan, advisor to North Korea's foreign ministry, writes in a statement carried in Pyongyang's official news wire KCNA.

The official then slammed Washington for its joint military drills with the South, which it has long considered rehearsals for invasion. — AFP

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