WASHINGTON • North Korea is moving ahead with its ballistic missile programme at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images.
These bases have long been known to US intelligence agencies but left undiscussed as President Donald Trump claims to have neutralised the North's nuclear threat.
The satellite images suggest that the North has been engaged in a great deception: It has offered to dismantle a major launching site - a step it began, then halted - while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads.
The existence of the ballistic missile bases, which Pyongyang has never acknowledged, contradicts Mr Trump's assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination of a nuclear and missile programme that North Korea had warned could devastate the US.
"We are in no rush," Mr Trump said of talks with the North at a news conference last Wednesday, after the Republicans lost control of the House following the midterm elections. "The sanctions are on. The missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped. The hostages are home."
His statement was true in just one sense. Mr Trump appeared to be referring to the halt of missile flight tests, which have not occurred in nearly a year.
But US intelligence officials say that the North's production of nuclear material, of new nuclear weapons and of missiles that can be placed on mobile launchers and hidden in mountains at the secret bases, has continued.
ALL GOING AS PLANNED
We are in no rush. The sanctions are on. The missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped. The hostages are home.
U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, referring to talks with North Korea at a news conference last Wednesday, after the Republicans lost control of the House.
And the sanctions are collapsing, in part because North Korea has leveraged its new, softer-sounding relationship with the United States, and its stated commitment to eventual denuclearisation, to resume trade with Russia and China.
The secret ballistic missile bases were identified in a detailed study slated to be published yesterday by the Beyond Parallel programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a major think-tank in Washington.
The programme, which focuses on the prospects of North-South integration, is led by Mr Victor Cha, a prominent North Korea expert whom the Trump administration considered appointing as the ambassador to South Korea last year.
His name was pulled back when he objected to the White House strategy for dealing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
A State Department spokesman responded to the findings with a written statement suggesting that the government believed the sites must be dismantled.
"President Trump has made clear that should Chairman Kim follow through on his commitments, including complete denuclearisation and the elimination of ballistic missile programmes, a much brighter future lies ahead for North Korea and its people."
Mr Cha said: "It's not like these bases have been frozen. Work is continuing. What everybody is worried about is that Trump is going to accept a bad deal - they give us a single test site and dismantle a few other things, and, in return, they get a peace agreement (that formally ends the Korean War)."
Mr Trump "would then declare victory, say he got more than any other American president ever got, and the threat would still be there", Mr Cha said.
A map of North Korea in the report shows three belts of missile bases that run from short-range tactical emplacements, to sites with midrange missiles that could strike most of South Korea, Japan and US bases in the Pacific, to strategic ones for missiles that threaten to reach American shores.
"The bases are clearly active," Mr Cha said. "It's not like these things have been frozen and are decaying."