US bullish on North's denuclearisation in Trump's first term

Images taken on Wednesday showed that a rail-mounted structure to transfer rockets to the launching pad appeared to have been completed.
Images taken on Wednesday showed that a rail-mounted structure to transfer rockets to the launching pad appeared to have been completed.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

There is time, says official, despite warnings that rocket launch site is again operational

WASHINGTON • The United States still believes the "fully verified denuclearisation" of North Korea is possible by the end of President Donald Trump's "first term", said a senior official, despite warnings that a key rocket launch site appears to have resumed operations.

The specialised website 38 North and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies used commercial satellite imagery to track construction at the site. The construction is said to have started before last week's aborted summit in Hanoi between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Images taken on Wednesday showed that a rail-mounted structure to transfer rockets to the launching pad appeared to have been completed.

"Given that construction, plus activity at other areas of the site, Sohae Satellite Launching Station appears to have returned to normal operational status," said 38 North's report.

Separately, the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) in Seoul said yesterday a 2.1-magnitude earthquake in North Korea's mining town of Pyonggang at around noon on Thursday is believed to have been man-made, possibly the result of an explosion.

"The epicentre is measured to be near the land surface," said a KMA official quoted by The Korea Times.

The news will compound the White House's frustration over the lack of progress on talks with the North, following the collapse of a second Trump-Kim summit without so much as a joint statement, let alone an agreement on the North's nuclear disarmament.

The specialised website 38 North and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies used commercial satellite imagery to track construction at the site. The construction is said to have started before last week's aborted summit in Hanoi between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The official confirmed on Thursday that Washington would seek from Pyongyang "clarifications on the purposes" of rebuilding the site, adding that the US has not reached "any specific conclusion about what's happening there".

Yet the senior official insisted "we still believe this (denuclearisation) is all achievable within the President's first term".

 
 
 

Unless re-elected, Mr Trump's term will end in January 2021.

"We have sufficient time," the official said, without mentioning a deadline for reaching an agreement so the goal could be met. "Where we really need to see progress, and we need to see it soon, is on meaningful and verifiable steps on denuclearisation as quickly as we can."

Mr Kim had agreed to shutter Sohae at a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang as part of confidence-building measures. Satellite pictures in August suggested workers were dismantling the engine test stand.

Mr Trump equivocated when asked on Thursday if he was disappointed about the news. "We'll see," he said. "We'll let you know in about a year."

State Department spokesman Robert Palladino affirmed Washington's commitment to stay engaged with Mr Kim, however, telling journalists on Thursday the administration was ready for "constructive negotiation".

In China, North Korea's most important economic and diplomatic backer, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, yesterday said a "resolution of the North's denuclearisation could not be reached overnight".

He added: "All parties should have reasonable expectations on this."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2019, with the headline 'US bullish on North's denuclearisation in Trump's first term'. Print Edition | Subscribe