Thursday, July 26, 2018

North Korea appears to dismantle its Sohae satellite launch site

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifying to Senate on Wednesday (AP)Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifying to Senate on Wednesday (AP)
a first step in dismantling facilities at its Sohae satellite launch site.

This site has been used in the past to conduct multiple rocket engine tests, including at least two tests of the engines that ended up powering the first stage of its two flight-tested intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

According to 38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez:
[Begin quote]"Since these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North's intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence building measure on the part of North Korea."[End quote]

The action is being described as a "confidence building measure," following the June 12 summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore. It's also being described as a step in fulfilling the promises made by Kim Jong-un to Donald Trump during that summit.

Adam Mount, a defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, said that North Korea is giving up little in its actions.

Mount was particularly concerned that North Korea did not even invite foreign journalists to watch the dismantling, to verify that it had actually occurred. Instead, the North did whatever it did in broad daylight knowing that it would be detected and reported by analysts like those at 38 North from commercial satellite pictures that show actions on the ground that might be purposely deceptive.

A South Korean official expressed puzzlement for the same reason: "We need further analysis to figure out why the North didn't turn the dismantlement activities into an event and whether the country is trying to control the speed of the process to maintain a pace it wants."

Furthermore, it's not clear that anything significant was accomplished at all, according to Mount:
[Begin quote]"The actions at Sohae are a helpful signal that Pyongyang wants to continue negotiations, but do not in themselves advance nuclear disarmament. North Korea still has not disclosed or offered to dismantle facilities that produce or store nuclear or missile systems, or the means to transport the missiles. So far, the facilities dismantled have been peripheral to these core functions."[End quote]

Furthermore, according to unnamed US government official referencing assessments by US intelligence agencies, the site "can be reconstituted within months."

U.S. military intelligence has similarly concluded in May that North Korea
s dismantlement of the tunnel network at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site with explosives was also reversible in a matter of "weeks to months." In that case, North Korea invited journalists to watch the dismantlement, but refused to invite experts who could verify what had happened. There was the possibility that the explosions that occurred at the entrance to the tunnels did not damage the insides of the tunnels. 38 North and AP and The Diplomat Source