Trump refrains from judgment regarding reports of N. Korea restoring Tongchang Village site

09-Mar-2019 Intellasia | Hani | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Satellite images seem to reveal reassembly of certain structures

Responding to a series of reports that North Korea has been partially restoring its long-range rocket (ballistic missile) launch facilities at Tongchang Village on the West (Yellow) Sea, US President Donald Trump said at the White House on March 6 that it was “too early to see,” but added that he would be “very, very disappointed in” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if the reports are accurate. Increased vehicle activity has also been reported at the Sanumdong missile research base on the outskirts of Pyongyang. Questions about whether the reports are true and what North Korea’s aims might be are drawing attention amid the conflicting signals over its activities in the wake of its summit with the US in Hanoi.

Based on an analysis of satellite photographs from the private imaging company Planet Labs, Voice of America (VOA) reported on March 7 that portable assembly structures at the Tongchang missile launch site had been restored to their original condition. Previously dismantled last July, the buildings were reportedly reassembled in their original position with materials transported since mid-February. The National Intelligence Service (NIS) also reported in a March 5 talk with the National Assembly Intelligence Committee that North Korea had been “restoring some of the facilities it demolished last July.” While the NIS did not disclose the specific date on which the restoration activities were detected, a military official said North Korea “has been observed restoring structures at Tongchang since last month” meaning the activities have been taking place since before the Hanoi summit.

Differing explanations have been suggested on why North Korea would have begun restoring structures at Tongchang before its summit with the US. Some interpreted it as an attempt by Pyongyang to pressure Washington ahead of the summit leverage to increase its bargaining strength. Others suggest that North Korea anticipated dismantlement of its Tongchang missile engine testing site would come up for discussion at the summit and sought to heighten the visible impact of potential inspections and verification. In the Pyongyang Joint Declaration last September, Kim pledged to “permanently dismantle the Dongchang-ri [Tongchang] missile engine test site and launch platform under the observation of experts from relevant countries.” Some skeptics claimed North Korea may also have had the underlying aim of using the site for missile launches again if the summit proved a failure. But the likelihood of the North having actively prepared for the possibility of failed talks appears low, given its expectant mood as recently as the time of the Hanoi summit.

The NIS also reportedly detected an increase in transport vehicle movement activities at the Sanumdong missile research complex on the outskirts of Pyongyang just before February suggesting that these too were initiated prior to the Hanoi summit.

The Sanumdong missile research base was the development site for the Hwasong-15 rocket (ICBM) test-launched by North Korea on November 29, 2017. The North never pledged to shut down its missile research complex at Sanumdong, which suggests that it would be premature to interpret the activities ahead of the Hanoi summit as a bid to generate tensions. It remains possible that the observed activities were ordinary measures to maintain the facilities.

But the negotiations between North Korea and the US appear very likely to end up derailed if the possibility of these activities leading to resumed missile launches and nuclear testing cannot be ruled out. North Korea previously disclosed that it had shared its willingness to provide a document at the Hanoi summit promising a permanent halt to its nuclear testing and long-range rocket test launches.


Category: Korea

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