SEOUL •A new facility near Pyongyang International Airport is almost certainly linked to North Korea's expanding ballistic missile programme, according to a report from a Washington-based think-tank.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) cited commercial satellite imagery which it said showed that the facility and a nearby underground structure had the capacity to accommodate North Korea's largest intercontinental ballistic missiles, which experts believe are able to strike anywhere in the United States.
The facility has been under construction since 2016 and has a number of notable features, including an unusually large covered rail terminal and buildings that are linked by drive-through access, according to the CSIS report published on Tuesday.
It is also relatively close to plants manufacturing ballistic missile components in the Pyongyang area.
"Taken as a whole, these characteristics suggest that this facility is likely designed to support ballistic missile operations," the report said, calling it the Sil-li Ballistic Missile Support Facility.
The North Korean Embassy in Beijing could not immediately be reached for comment on the report. When asked about the report at a regular briefing in Seoul yesterday, a spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry said it would be inappropriate to comment.
Negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes have been at a standstill after working-level meetings with the US collapsed last year.
In 2018, North Korea said it had closed its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Last year, during a failed summit between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in Vietnam, it offered to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for the revocation of five key United Nations resolutions.
But experts and US officials said that in the absence of a denuclearisation deal, North Korea has continued to expand its arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
North and South Korea on Sunday exchanged gunfire around a rural guard post, raising tensions a day after North Korean state media showed Mr Kim visiting a factory, the first report of him making a public appearance since April 11.
Mr Kim's absence had fuelled a flurry of speculation about his health and whereabouts, with a South Korean news outlet reporting that he was recovering from a cardiovascular procedure, while CNN said US officials were monitoring intelligence that he was "in grave danger" after surgery.
But South Korean lawmakers briefed by Seoul's spy agency said yesterday that there are no signs Mr Kim received heart surgery during his three-week absence.
They said Mr Kim had likely reduced his public activity due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Mr Kim Byung-kee, a member of South Korea's parliamentary intelligence committee, said after a meeting with the National Intelligence Service that it had assessed that the North Korean leader did not get any heart-related procedure or surgery. "He was normally performing his duties when he was out of the public eye."