TEHRAN (defapress)- Satellite images suggested that Pyongyang could be preparing to launch a missile or space rocket in the near future, analysts stated on Friday, signaling a potential blow to US-North Korea relations.
News ID: 76081
Publish Date: 09March 2019 - 14:40
The commercial images, taken in February by imaging company DigitalGlobe, reveal an uptick in activity at a facility in Sanumdong, a suburb of the capital Pyongyang, according to CNN.
North Korea has previously assembled some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles and satellite-launching rockets at Sanumdong.
On Thursday, media reported, citing the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS), that Pyongyang seems to be still operating uranium enrichment facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear site.
"[North Korea's] uranium enrichment facilities were known to be in normal operation even before the recent summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea," Suh Hoon, the NIS chief, said in his recent address to lawmakers.
At the same closed briefing, the NIS chief stated that the agency had detected the movement of vehicles at North Korea's Saneum-dong missile research facility.
Moreover, the intelligence agency reportedly spotted the signs suggesting that Pyongyang was partially restoring its Dongchang-ri missile launch site that it started demolishing last year.
On Tuesday, several US think tanks reported that satellite pictures showed works were underway to restore the Sohae Satellite Launching Station at Tongchang-ri, which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un also pledged to dismantle at his historic summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore last year.
"We're seeing a lot of vehicle activity at the Sanumdong facility and also at the rail transfer point where it would be loaded and taken to Sohae," said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who has studied the new images.
"I think the evidence points to a satellite launch, and not just the evidence at Sanumdong, but also the evidence from Sohae," he added.
Lewis cautioned that it is impossible to know whether the North Koreans are preparing a military missile or a space rocket. It is also possible that the activity was a deliberate attempt to draw the attention of US spy satellites.
"Because that (Sanumdong) facility produces both ICBMs and space rockets, we don't know what's on the train," said Melissa Hanham, a North Korea expert with the One Earth Future Foundation, adding, "We also don't know how far the train has gotten."
Hanham believes a satellite launch is the more likely scenario because there has never been an ICBM launch from Sohae.
She also stated that activity at the launch site should indicate about a week in advance whether a launch is imminent, noting, "There's never been a surprise launch from Sohae".
Trump stated on Wednesday that he would be "very, very disappointed" if a report that North Korea is rebuilding a long-range rocket test site is true.
The reports emerged days after the second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, which finished abruptly without any deal or declaration due to the parties’ failure to agree on the scale of North Korea’s denuclearization and US-led sanctions relief.
Trump has stated that his talks with Kim broke down because the North Korean leader wanted the removal of sanctions "in their entirety", a claim rejected by Pyongyang, which insists it merely wanted a partial lifting of the biting economic penalties.