North Korea 'rebuilding rocket launch site' after US talks

Researchers say satellite images taken days after talks between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump show work at Tongchang-ri site

FILE - In this April 8, 2012, file photo, a soldier stands in front of the Unha-3 rocket at a launching site in Tongchang-ri, North Korea. North Korea is reportedly restoring facilities at its long-range rocket launch site that it had dismantled as part of disarmament steps last year. A major South Korean newspaper reports that the country's spy service gave such an assessment to lawmakers in a private briefing on Tuesday. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)
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North Korea may be rebuilding a rocket launch site it had pledged to dismantle, after talks between leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump collapsed last week.

Researchers released new satellite images, taken two days after the Hanoi summit ended abruptly without a deal on denuclearisation, which they claim show “deliberate and purposeful” rebuilding at the Sohae missile site in Tongchang-ri.

Mr Kim had promised to close the site at a summit last year with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

But researchers from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said an analysis of the satellite images suggested there was activity at the site’s vertical engine test stand and the launch pad’s rail-mounted rocket transfer structure.

“This facility had been dormant since August 2018, indicating the current activity is deliberate and purposeful,” the centre said.

Director of monitoring group 38 North, Joel Wit, said the new evidence did not necessarily mean North Korea was getting ready to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“Aside from the fact that [North Korea] has never tested an ICBM from Sohae – it’s a space vehicle launch site – preparation for any launch would require a wide range of activities not observed in the imagery,” he told AFP.

The second summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump broke down last week after differences about how far Pyongyang was willing to limit its nuclear programme before it was granted relief from a US sanctions blacklist.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Tuesday that North Korea could face more sanctions if it was not committed to giving up its nuclear weapons programme “and everything associated with it”.

The Sohae Satellite Launching Station launch pad features what researchers of Beyond Parallel, a CSIS project, describe as showing the partially rebuilt rail-mounted rocket transfer structure in a commercial satellite image taken over Tongchang-ri, North Korea on March 2, 2019 and released March 5, 2019.  CSIS/Beyond Parallel/DigitalGlobe 2019 via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.
The Sohae Satellite Launching Station launch pad features what researchers describe as showing the partially rebuilt rail-mounted rocket transfer structure, on March 2, 2019. CSIS/Beyond Parallel/DigitalGlobe 2019 via Reuters

“If they’re not willing to do it, then I think President Trump has been very clear ... they’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them and we’ll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact,” he told Fox Business Network.

Taking a softer tone, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that he was hopeful Washington would be able to send a delegation to North Korea in coming weeks.

Satellite launches from the Sohae site in 2012 and 2016 were suspected by critics of being cover for testing ballistic missiles and were widely condemned by the international community.

But analysts said the site had never been used to launch an ICBM and there was no evidence to suggest a test was imminent.