US intelligence agencies believe North Korea has secretly stepped up its uranium enrichment in recent months, while simultaneously seeking concessions from Washington for surrendering its nuclear arsenal, NBC reported Friday.
The network quoted five unnamed US intelligence officials saying there was “unequivocal” evidence that Pyongyang had intentionally misled the US by declaring a commitment to denuclearization after talks with President Donald Trump earlier this month.
The officials also revealed to NBC that North Korea has more than one secret nuclear complex in addition to its known nuclear fuel production facility at Yongbyon.
“Work is ongoing to deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles,” one official told the network. “We are watching closely.”
“There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the US,” he added.
The latest US intelligence assessment appeared to contradict sentiments expressed by US President Donald Trump earlier this month, who claimed his historic summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un completely eliminated the nuclear threat from Pyongyang.
The nuclear-armed North’s leader Kim Jong Un promised to “work toward” the goal at the landmark summit in Singapore with Trump on June 12.
But the Singapore meeting failed to clearly define denuclearization or produce a specific timeline towards dismantling the North’s atomic weapons arsenal.
After the summit, Trump enthusiastically declared “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” Last week, he insisted the process would start quickly, saying “it will be a total denuclearization, which is already taking place.”
The NBC report corroborates recent findings by a watchdog group that published satellite images this week showing work being done on the Yongbyon nuclear research facility.
The images published by 38 North not only showed that operations at Yongbyon were continuing, but that infrastructure work was being done on the site.
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
The watchdog 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.
The North last month 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 Pyongyang has kept its counsel on the denuclearization issue since the meeting, although state media have dialed down propaganda against the US, long dubbed the “imperialist enemy.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been pushing for more follow-up talks to flesh out details over denuclearization, but no date has been set for when they would take place.
Agencies contributed to this report.