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Analysts say North Korea intends toned-down parade

Reuters, SEOUL

North Koreans wave as they march next to a float display of models of different missiles across Kim Il-sung Square during a military parade to celebrate the 105th birthday of Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, on April 15.

Photo: AP

Satellite imagery shows North Korea is poised to stage another military parade amid new worries that diplomatic efforts on denuclearization are stalling, although analysts have said that it is unclear whether it will showcase any of the nation’s largest ballistic missiles.

Pyongyang is preparing to host a number of major events on Sept. 9 for the 70th anniversary of the nation’s founding, including a military parade, possible visits by foreign delegations, and — for the first time in five years — a massive choreographed performance known as the “Mass Games.”

Parades have long been a way for North Korea to show off its military might and this month’s show comes amid sensitive negotiations over the future of the nation’s nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met US President Donald Trump in June and agreed to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but negotiations since then appear to have stalled, with both sides increasingly criticizing the other for a lack of progress.

Based on commercial satellite imagery gathered by Planet Labs Inc, analysts have said the military parade is likely to be similar to one on Feb. 8, but there is so far no sign of the controversial intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that are believed to be capable of targeting the US.

“At the moment, this parade look pretty similar, if not smaller, than the one in February,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Among the weapons the team at Middlebury spotted in Aug. 22 images of North Korea’s Mirim Parade Training Ground are tanks, self-propelled artillery, infantry carriers, anti-aircraft missiles and rocket launchers.

Other possible weapons arrayed on the parade ground include coastal defense cruise missiles, as well as at least six solid-fuel, short-range ballistic missiles possibly of a type first seen in February.

Analysts said that the short-range ballistic missile is based on the Russian Iskander missile, but also shares many features of South Korea’s Hyunmoo-2 missile.

“The first 99 vehicles are identical,” Lewis said. “After that we only see another 20 or so short-range missiles. There were more on parade in February, including ICBMs.”

Another analysis of the Planet Labs images, conducted by Joseph Bermudez at the Stimson Centre’s 38 North Web site, also found no signs of ICBMs, but said that an expanded number of heavy equipment storage shelters indicate that this month’s parade “will likely be considerably larger than the military parade earlier this year.”

If ICBMs or other large missiles are present, “they would likely remain hidden under the shelters in the heavy-equipment storage area until the day of the parade,” Bermudez wrote.

Lewis said that there could be more weapons hidden in the sheds, but said at this point it is “just speculation.”

Analysts have said that there is so far no indication that the parade would match the April last year “Day of the Sun” parade, in which Kim rolled out multiple new missile systems, helping to exacerbate rising tensions with the US and South Korea.

“It probably won’t be anything close to what we saw in last year,” said Dave Schmerler, a research associate at the Middlebury Institute.

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