North Korea stops dismantling rocket test site — report
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North Korea stops dismantling rocket test site — report

Commercial satellite imagery said to indicate Pyongyang may be modifying Sohae facility, which was used to test liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles

A screen capture from a video of North Korea's Unha-3 rocket lifting off from the Sohae launching station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea in December 2012. (photo credit: AP/KRT via AP Video)
A screen capture from a video of North Korea's Unha-3 rocket lifting off from the Sohae launching station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea in December 2012. (photo credit: AP/KRT via AP Video)

North Korea has stopped dismantling a rocket test site, based on satellite photographs taken in recent weeks and other new evidence, a group of experts said Wednesday.

According to the 38 North group, commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae satellite launching station indicates Pyongyang shows no significant work has taken place to dismantle either the engine test stand or launch pad since August 3.

Sohae, on the northwest coast of North Korea, has been used to test liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles.

Outside observers say nuclear-armed Pyongyang’s space program is a fig leaf for weapons tests as rocket engines are easily re-purposed for use in missiles.

A satellite image of North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station, on August 3. 2018. (Airbus Defense & Space and 38 North)

In June, 38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez said Sohae is “believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program.”

From July until early August Pyongyang had begun taking down the site, but appeared to have done no new work over the past several weeks. The components already dismantled reportedly remain stacked at the site.

Although there has been little dismantling at the test site, 38 North reported that there was only a slight reduction of trucks and trailers working at the headquarters.

The report said, “It is still unclear if this activity is associated with dismantling or modification of the structure.”

A satellite image of North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station, on August 16. 2018. (Airbus Defense & Space and 38 North)

Following a high-stakes Singapore summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, the president had declared that Pyongyang was “no longer a Nuclear Threat,” and touted his own diplomatic achievements.

But Kim did not publicly promise to end work at the country’s nuclear and missile facilities, instead speaking of eventual denuclearization.

Last month a news report said that Pyongyang appeared to be developing at least one or two liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Post said, citing officials familiar with the intelligence.

The new missile construction followed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s July testimony in which he told senators Pyongyang continues to make nuclear fissile material, without indicating whether the hermit state was building new missiles.

Imagery from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency suggests ongoing work on at least one Hwasong-15 ICBM at the Sanumdong plant, the Post said.

“We see them going to work, just as before,” a US official told the newspaper.

AFP contributed to this report.

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