Trump warns Kim over 'rebuilding' of North Korea rocket site
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: July 8, 2020 - 5:55pm

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.

July 8, 2020 - 5:55pm

US Deputy Secretary of State and North Korea envoy Stephen Biegun pour cold water on reports Washington had sought a meeting with Pyongyang officials, with nuclear discussions at a standstill.

Biegun is on a four-day trip to Seoul and Tokyo to discuss North Korea's denuclearisation.

The visit triggered speculation in the South that Washington was trying to rekindle diplomacy with Pyongyang ahead of the US presidential election in November -- even though the North has repeatedly said it had no interest in talks. — AFP

July 4, 2020 - 5:55pm

A senior diplomat says North Korea does "not feel any need" to resume talks with Washington, days after Seoul called for a summit as it seeks improved ties with Pyongyang.

The statement by the North's vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui comes after former US national security advisor John Bolton reportedly said President Donald Trump might pursue another meeting with leader Kim Jong Un in October. — AFP

April 28, 2020 - 9:58am

US President Donald Trump appears to confirm that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is alive, saying he wished him well after days of speculation over the dictator's whereabouts.

Asked if he had new information about Kim's health, Trump says "yes, I do have a very good idea, but I can't talk about it now. I just wish him well."

"I hope he's fine," Trump continues, speaking at a White House press conference. "I do know how he's doing, relatively speaking." — AFP

December 31, 2019 - 4:44pm

State media says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for "diplomatic and military countermeasures", ahead of a year-end deadline for Washington to change its stance on stalled nuclear talks with Pyongyang.

His latest comments, made during a meeting of top ruling party officials in Pyongyang on Monday, came ahead of his set-piece New Year speech that could flesh out a threat to seek a "new way" forward after the expiration of the year-end deadline.

He spoke for seven hours during the ruling Workers' Party meeting, the North's official KCNA news agency said in a report released Tuesday, calling for measures to rebuild its economy and "diplomatic and military countermeasures for firmly preserving the sovereignty and security" of the isolated nation. — AFP

December 21, 2019 - 4:42pm

North Korea on Saturday warned Washington would only aggravate tensions and "pay dearly" for criticising Pyongyang over human rights, with nuclear negotiations between the two deadlocked.

The international community has frequently condemned North Korea for political repression, and for decades of prioritising its military and its nuclear weapons programme over adequately providing for its people.

Criticising Pyongyang's human rights record would only aggravate the "already tense situation" on the Korean peninsula, "like pouring oil over burning fire", a North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The statement was in response to concern expressed by a US state department official over North Korea's human rights situation, KCNA said. — Agence France-Presse

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