North Korea expands weapons facilities despite US pressure to disarm

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JULY 2, 2018

North Korea is completing a major expansion of a key missile-manufacturing plant, according to new satellite pictures that have cast fresh doubt on Pyongyang’s commitment to disarm despite US pressure.

The facility makes solid-fuel, ballistic missiles – capable of a swift nuclear strike on targets in Asia – and re-entry vehicles for warheads, believed to be one of the last major technological hurdles in developing longer-range missiles capable of hitting the continental US.

According to the Wall Street Journal, new images analysed by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, show that North Korea was finishing construction on the exterior of the Chemical Material Institute in Hamhung last month, when Kim Jong-un was meeting with US President Donald Trump in Singapore.

The US is pressuring Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons programme, but an agreement reached between Kim and Mr Trump at their June 12 meeting was a vaguely worded commitment to “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” with no specified timeline or means for verification.  

Shortly before the summit North Korea blew up its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri – the site of six atomic tests – in a sign of goodwill.

However, adding to fears that Pyongyang is still pushing ahead with its weapons programme, 38 North, another organisation that monitors North Korea, last week published satellite images that revealed that the main nuclear research centre in Yongbyon was being upgraded “at a rapid pace.”

On Monday, The Diplomat reported that North Korea has continued to produce support equipment and launchers for one of its newer medium-range ballistic missiles this year, according to a recent US military assessment.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, NBC also reported that US intelligence agencies b elieve North Koreahas increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months, even as it engages in diplomacy with the US and seeks concessions from t ough economic sanctions.

“There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the US,” NBC quoted one official as saying.

Related: Satellite images show upgrades to N. Korean nuclear facility (Provided by USA Today)

Recent developments call into question Mr Trump’s claim on Twitter immediately after the summit that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

The president conceded in an interview with Fox News on Sunday that it was “possible” that the deal with North Korea may not “work out,” although he continued to stress that after personally shaking hands with Kim, “I really believe he means it.”

Senior US officials have so far not commented on the pessimistic prognosis of intelligence reports that suggest Kim Jong-un has no intention of fully renouncing his nuclear weapons programme or handing over his missiles.

John Bolton, the national security advisor, told “Face the Nation” on CBS that the administration was not “starry-eyed” and was “well aware of what the North Koreans have done in the past” in terms of failing to live up to promises.

However, he added that he believed the bulk of Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction could be dismantled within a year. “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future,” he said.

US envoy Sung Kim held talks with North Korean officials on Sunday in the border village of Panmunjom within the demilitarised zone that divides the peninsula, the South Korean media reported.

The talks were believed to be focused on setting the agenda for an upcoming visit of Mr Pompeo to North Korea.

Mr Pompeo, who may travel to Pyongyang as early as this week, tweeted his congratulations on Sunday to Admiral Harry Harris, who was confirmed as US ambassador to Seoul on Friday – a position that has been vacant since Mr Trump was elected in 2016.

“A lot of work ahead on maintaining our ironclad alliance with #ROK [South Korea] and achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of the #DPRK [North Korea], as agreed to by Chairman Kim.”

The claim drew a frustrated response from North Korea experts like Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, who have long argued that the Trump administration has over-inflated Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearise.

“He. Did. Not. Agree. To. That. Kim agreed to ‘work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula’. I want to know what language or translation software makes anyone think that is in the same universe as ‘final, fully verified denuclearization of DPRK’,” tweeted Mr. Narang.


Courtesy/Source: The Telegraph