US officials reportedly believe North Korea has no intention of giving up its nuclear stockpile and will conceal at least some weapons despite agreeing to denuclearize last month.
US intelligence has collected evidence pointing to plans by Pyongyang to deceive the West into thinking it has dismantled its nuclear program and push for sanctions relief, the Washington Post reported late Saturday.
Officials say North Korea plans to keep the US in the dark about how many warheads it has, how much fissile material is in its possession and where all of its nuclear facilities are located.
On Friday, NBC News reported that US intelligence officials believe the North had ramped up enrichment and is planning on keeping secret nuclear facilities hidden and operational.
The reports come on the heels of satellite images showing that North Korea is carrying out rapid improvements to its nuclear research facility.
The nuclear-armed North’s leader Kim Jong Un promised to “work toward” denuclearization at a landmark summit in Singapore in June with US President Donald Trump.
But the Singapore meeting failed to clearly define denuclearization or produce a specific timeline toward dismantling the North’s atomic weapons arsenal.
Intelligence officials have expressed skepticism over whether Pyongyang is being sincere in its commitment, with a Defense Intelligence Assessment after the summit concluding that North Korea is unlikely to actually denuclearize, according to the Washington Post report.
The intelligence findings stand in contrast to optimism expressed by Trump during and since the summit.
Trump has claimed the process of dismantling the nuclear program would start quickly, saying late last month that “it will be a total denuclearization, which is already taking place.”
Immediately following the summit, he declared the nuclear threat over.
Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been pushing for more follow-up talks to flesh out details of the denuclearization, but no date has been set for when they would take place.
In May, the North blew up its aged but only nuclear test site at Punggye-ri — where it had staged six atomic tests — in a show of goodwill before the summit.
But the respected 38 North monitoring group said last week that not only were operations continuing at the North’s main Yongbyon nuclear site, it was also carrying out infrastructure works, citing recent satellite imagery.
“Commercial satellite imagery from June 21 indicates that improvements to the infrastructure at… Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center are continuing at a rapid pace,” it said.
Monitoring group @38NorthNK releases new analysis of satellite imagery, says North Korea appears to be making “rapid” improvements to Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center — even as denuclearization talks continue. S. Korea Unification Ministry: “We’re watching it closely.” pic.twitter.com/p4PGO7r2WU
— Will Ripley (@willripleyCNN) June 27, 2018
It noted “continued operations” at the North’s uranium enrichment plant and several new installations at the site — including an engineering office and a driveway to a building housing a nuclear reactor.
But continued operations at the site “should not be seen as having any relationship with North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize,” it added.
Nuclear officials could be “expected to proceed with business as usual until specific orders are issued from Pyongyang,” it said.