North Korea making ‘rapid’ improvements to nuclear research facility despite Trump-Kim summit pledge: watchdog
According to 38 North, a U.S.-based North Korea watchdog, satellite imagery captured on June 21 suggests the North is continuing to upgrade infrastructure at its Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.
In 38 North’s latest analysis, the watchdog notes that the nuclear site’s plutonium production cooling system appears to have been completed while several buildings in and around the centre have been erected.
On June 12, U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean dictator pledged the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula following a historic meeting between the two leaders.
“President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new U.S.–DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Following the meeting, Trump told reporters in Singapore that Kim had destroyed a “major missile engine-testing site.”
“Chairman Kim has told me that North Korea is already destroying a major missile engine-testing site,” Trump said. “That’s not in your signed document; we agreed to that after the agreement was signed. That’s a big thing — for the missiles that they were testing, the site is going to be destroyed very soon.”
However, 38 North reported earlier this month that satellite images captured in late May suggest there’s been no change at six known launch and engine-testing facilities.
“Of these facilities and test stands, it is likely that President Trump’s comment on June 12 regarding the destruction of a ‘major missile engine-testing site’ was not referring to either the Iha-ri test stand — which was razed in May — or the Sinpo South Shipyard test stand that has not been used in approximately a year,” U.S. analyst Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. wrote in his analysis. “And contrary to the president’s statement, both sites have been solely used for ejection tests, not engine tests or launches.”
North Korea has not said it blew up launch sites. Before the summit, it destroyed something else — its test site for underground nuclear blasts. Journalists witnessed the demolition of three tunnels and nearby buildings. The site may have already been compromised by the earlier, nuclear explosions and its destruction was one step among many that would be needed to achieve denuclearization.
However, the North Korean watchdog warned Tuesday that “continued work at the Yongbyon facility should not be seen as having any relationship to North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize.”
“The North’s nuclear cadre can be expected to proceed with business as usual until specific orders are issued from Pyongyang,” the watchdog noted.
The analysis comes a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN that he won’t put a timeline on the denuclearization of the North.
“I am not going to put a timeline on it, whether that’s two months, six months, we are committed to moving forward in an expeditious moment to see if we can achieve what both leaders set out to do,” Pompeo told CNN. “We hope that we will have an ongoing process of making progress.”