WASHINGTON/SEOUL • New activity has been detected at a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles plant, South Korean media reported yesterday.
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 United States, South Korea's Joong-Ang Ilbo and Donga Ilbo newspapers reported, citing lawmakers briefed by the National Intelligence Service on Tuesday.
Spy chief Suh Hoon told the lawmakers that he viewed the activity as missile-related, the JoongAng Ilbo said. It quoted Mr Suh as saying that Pyongyang continued to run its uranium enrichment facility at the main Yongbyon nuclear complex after the first summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last June.
The reports came after the leaders' second summit in the Vietnamese capital of 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 13,000 km. 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 and Defence Ministry declined to confirm the reports on Sanumdong, saying that they are closely monitoring North Korea's activities, together 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 Mr Kim, at the Singapore summit, vowed to dismantle.
White House National Security Adviser John Bolton told Fox News that Mr Trump was open to further talks with North Korea on denuclearisation. "The President is obviously open to talking again. We will see when that might be scheduled or how it might work out," he said.
Mr Bolton also said it was too soon to make a determination on the reports of North Korea's missile activities. "We have a lot of ways of getting information," he said. "We are going to study the situation carefully."
Imagery from Planet Labs analysed by the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California showed activity at Sohae from Feb 23 until Wednesday.
The 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 now complete, cranes had been removed from the launch pad and the transfer building moved to the end of the pad.
A US government source said the work at Sohae probably began before the Hanoi summit.
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 US government source, who did not want to be named, 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.
Meanwhile, North Korea's state television aired a 78-minute documentary on Wednesday showing a cordial mood between Mr Trump and Mr Kim as the Hanoi summit ended, indicating Pyongyang was not about to walk away from negotiations, experts say.
But in a return to a strident tone in North Korea's state media, the KCNA news agency criticised new small-scale military exercises that the US and South Korea plan to hold instead of a large-scale spring exercise they have called off. The news agency said the drills would be a "violent violation" of agreements signed between the US and North Korea as well as between the two Koreas.