Wed, Jul 25, 2018 - Page 5 News List

North Korea taking apart launch site

QUESTIONS RAISED:Satellite images show facilities at the Sohae site are being taken down, but analysts said that the lack of independent verification is troubling

AP, SEOUL

North Korea appears to have started dismantling key facilities at its main satellite launch site in a step toward fulfilling a commitment made by leader Kim Jong-un at his summit with US President Donald Trump in June.

While Pyongyang could be trying to build trust with Washington as they engage in talks to resolve the nuclear standoff, analysts say dismantling a few facilities at the site alone would not realistically reduce North’s military capability or represent a material step toward denuclearization. They also expressed concern the work is being done without verification.

The North Korea-focused 38 North Web site said commercial satellite images taken between Friday last week and Sunday indicate the North began dismantling key facilities at the Sohae launch site.

The facilities being razed or disassembled include a rocket engine test stand used to develop liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles and a rail-mounted processing building where space launch vehicles were assembled before being moved to the launch pad, the report said.

“Since these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence building measure on the part of North Korea,” analyst Joseph Bermudez wrote in the report.

An official from South Korea’s presidential office yesterday said Seoul has also been detecting dismantlement activities at the Sohae launch site, but did not specify what the North was supposedly taking apart.

Other analysts said North Korea is giving up little in dismantling the rocket engine test site when it is clear the nation is satisfied with its current design of long-range weapons and could easily build other similar facilities if needed in the future.

Adam Mount, a senior defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, said it is also troubling that the North has been apparently allowed to duck verification by unilaterally dismantling parts of its nuclear and missile facilities without the presence of international inspectors.

North Korea in May invited foreign journalists to observe the destruction of tunnels at its nuclear testing ground, but did not invite outside experts capable of certifying what had been destroyed.

“The actions at Sohae are a helpful signal that Pyongyang wants to continue negotiations, but do not in themselves advance nuclear disarmament,” Mount said in an e-mail. “North Korea still has not disclosed or offered to dismantle facilities that produce or store nuclear or missile systems, or the means to transport the missiles. So far, the facilities dismantled have been peripheral to these core functions.”

Lee Choon-geun, a missile expert at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, said the North’s supposed move to dismantle the rail-mounted processing building was the more meaningful development as it potentially indicated to broader dismantlement activities at the site.

“If North Korea goes further and dismantle the entire Sohae site, that would meaningfully reduce the country’s long-range missile capability by eliminating a facility where it could fire multiple ICBMs in succession,” Lee said. “The North can also fire ICBMs from transporter erector launchers, but their technology with these vehicles isn’t stable.”

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