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North Korea 'rebuilding' main satellite launch site, satellite photos show

The activity was recorded days after the summit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.

File photo - A North Korean soldier stands in front of the country's Unha-3 rocket
File photo - A North Korean soldier stands in front of the country's Unha-3 rocket
Image: David Guttenfelder via AP

ACTIVITY HAS BEEN detected at a North Korean long-range rocket site, suggesting Pyongyang may be pursuing the “rapid rebuilding” of the facility after the collapse of the Hanoi summit, according to analysis of satellite imagery.

Last week’s meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump ended abruptly after the pair failed to reach an agreement on walking back Pyongyang’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

The renewed activity was recorded two days after the summit and may “demonstrate resolve in the face of US rejection” of the North’s request for sanctions relief, said researchers at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

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

Kim had agreed to shutter the Sohae missile-testing site at a summit with the South’s President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang, as part of confidence-building measures, and satellite pictures in August suggested workers were already dismantling an engine test stand at the facility.

CSIS said activity is “evident” at the vertical engine test stand and the launch pad’s rail-mounted rocket transfer structure at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station – the facility from which Pyongyang launched satellites in 2012 and 2016.

The satellite launches were condemned by the international community and widely viewed as disguised ballistic missile tests.

The CSIS analysis said the Sohae facility “has been used in the past for satellite launches,” which use “ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) technology banned under UN Security Council resolutions”.

Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un US President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Hanoi, Vietnam during last week's summit Source: Evan Vucci via AP

Detected signs

In a briefing to parliamentarians this week, Seoul’s spy agency said it had detected signs of work at the site.

The director of the respected Washington-based 38 North project cautioned that the evidence was not necessarily “consistent with preparations for an ICBM test”.

“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.”

North Korea conducted its first successful nuclear test in 2006 followed by a string of increasingly successful ICBM launches. 

In 2017, it claimed it had become a nuclear state, capable of fitting a viable nuclear weapon on an ICBM that could reach as far as the United States’ eastern seaboard.

In the same year, the UN Security Council banned the North’s main exports – coal and other mineral resources, fisheries and textile products — to cut off its access to hard currency in response to Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear arms and ballistic missiles.

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