North Korea may be preparing missile launch, US report says

A satellite image on March 6 shows North Korea may have resumed operations at its long-range rocket launch site at Sohae, according to the website 38 North and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
A satellite image on March 6 shows North Korea may have resumed operations at its long-range rocket launch site at Sohae, according to the website 38 North and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.PHOTO: REUTERS

Satellite images show activity at two sites linked to missile production, rocket launches

SEOUL • North Korea may be preparing for a missile or space launch, US news outlet NPR has reported, based on analysis of satellite images of a key facility near Pyongyang.

NPR said the images of Sanumdong, one of the facilities that Pyongyang has used to produce inter-continental ballistic missiles and space rockets, were taken days before US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Hanoi last month for their high-stakes summit, which ended in failure.

The photos by the firm DigitalGlobe show the presence of cars and trucks at the site on Feb 22, said NPR - which has exclusive access to the imagery.

It added that rail cars and cranes can also be seen at a yard.

"When you put all that together, that's really what it looks like when the North Koreans are in the process of building a rocket," Dr Jeffrey Lewis, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, was quoted as saying by NPR last Friday.

The Sanumdong analysis comes days after the specialised website 38 North and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said Pyongyang may have resumed operations at its long-range rocket launch site in Sohae, based on their study of satellite imagery from March 6.

The development is likely to further compound Washington's frustration over the lack of progress in its bid to get the North to give up its atomic arsenal, especially after the Feb 27-28 summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim collapsed without so much as a joint statement - let alone an agreement on nuclear disarmament.

 
 

According to senior US officials, in the week leading up to the Hanoi summit, the North Koreans had demanded the lifting of effectively all UN Security Council economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang since March 2016.

In return, Pyongyang offered only to close part of the Yongbyon complex, a sprawling site covering multiple facilities. The North is also believed to have other uranium enrichment plants.

But North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho disputed the US account, saying Pyongyang offered to dismantle all "nuclear production facilities in the Yongbyon area" in exchange for partial sanctions relief.

The North's state media said the world is blaming the US for ending the Hanoi summit without a deal, the first commentary from the country acknowledging the failure to reach an agreement.

Mr Trump told reporters last Friday he would be disappointed if Pyongyang were to resume weapons testing and reiterated his belief in his good relationship with Mr Kim.

US officials have said Washington believes the "final, fully verified denuclearisation" of North Korea is still possible by the end of Mr Trump's first term.

Mr Kim released his first public message since the Hanoi summit on March 2, instructing propaganda officials to conduct "positive information" activities to spur scientific and technological development, a report by North Korean state media outlet KCNA said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 10, 2019, with the headline 'N. Korea may be preparing missile launch, US report says'. Print Edition | Subscribe