US identifies North Korea missile test site to be destroyed

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) watching the ground jet test of a newly developed high-thrust engine at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in an image released in March last year. North Korea monitoring group 38 North said in an analysis at
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) watching the ground jet test of a newly developed high-thrust engine at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in an image released in March last year. North Korea monitoring group 38 North said in an analysis at the end of last week that there had been no sign of any activity towards dismantling Sohae or any other missile test site.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Official says Kim vowed to dismantle facility in west that tests long-range missile engines

WASHINGTON • The missile engine test site that United States President Donald Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had committed to destroy is a major facility in the western part of the country that has been used for testing engines for long-range missiles, according to a US official.

Mr Trump told reporters after their June 12 summit that Mr Kim had pledged to dismantle one of his missile installations, which would be North Korea's most concrete concession at the landmark meeting in Singapore. But the President at the time did not name the site.

A US official identified it on Wednesday as the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, saying North Korea "has used this site to test liquid-propellant engines for its long-range ballistic missiles". Pyongyang has said its missiles can reach the US.

"Chairman Kim promised that North Korea would destroy a missile engine test stand soon," the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate word on the exact timetable, and North Korea has not publicly confirmed that Mr Kim made such a commitment.

CBS News was the first to identify the site, which is the newest of North Korea's known major missile testing facilities.

Although Mr Trump has hailed the Singapore summit as a success, sceptics have questioned whether he achieved anything, given that Pyongyang has rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament and appeared to make no new tangible commitments in a joint written declaration.

SYMBOLIC MEANING

The missile testing is not just done in Tongchang-ri so it does not necessarily mean all ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) will be disabled. But the most well-known one is this, so there is a great symbolic meaning if this is shut down.

MR MOON HONG-SIK, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in South Korea.

US-based North Korea monitoring group 38 North said in an analysis at the end of last week that there had been no sign of any activity towards dismantling Sohae or any other missile test site.

The US official said: "The United States will continue to monitor this site closely as we move forward in our negotiations."

What little is known about the Sohae site, located in Tongchang-ri, has been pieced together from analysts'assessments and North Korean state news agency KCNA's reports.

It was reported to have been established in 2008 and has research facilities nearby for missile development as well as a tower that can support ballistic missiles. The site is mainly used to test large Paektusan engines built for long-range missiles such as the Hwasong-15.

North Korea has spent considerable effort and resources to develop the site as a "civilian space programme" facility, denying that it has a military application, said Ms Jenny Town, a research analyst at 38 North. "Presumably, if North Korea does destroy the Sohae facility, they are also signalling that they are willing to stop satellite or rocket launches this time around as well, a point that has derailed negotiations in the past and is a significant new development," she said.

North Korea has other missile testing facilities but the shutdown, if it happens, would be significant, analysts said.

"The missile testing is not just done in Tongchang-ri so it does not necessarily mean all ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) will be disabled. But the most well-known one is this, so there is a great symbolic meaning if this is shut down," said Mr Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in South Korea.

North Korea announced ahead of the Singapore summit the suspension of its ICBM testing and also closed its nuclear bomb test site. US officials, however, have cautioned that such actions are reversible.

Asked on Wednesday whether North Korea has done anything towards denuclearisation since the summit, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said the denuclearisation pledge was the "very front end of a process".

"The detailed negotiations have not begun. I wouldn't expect that at this point."

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2018, with the headline 'US identifies North Korea missile test site to be destroyed'. Print Edition | Subscribe