North Ko­rea Is Ex­pan­ding Mis­si­le Ba­se With Eye To­ward U.S., Ex­perts Warn

Luces del Siglo - - LUCES - Choe Sang-Hun C.2018 NEW YORK TI­MES NEWS SER­VI­CE

SEOUL, South Ko­rea — North Ko­rea is ex­pan­ding an im­por­tant mis­si­le ba­se that would be one of the most li­kely si­tes for de­plo­ying in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal ba­llis­tic mis­si­les ca­pa­ble of rea­ching the Uni­ted Sta­tes, two ex­perts on the North’s mis­si­le pro­grams said Thurs­day, ci­ting new re­search ba­sed on sa­te­lli­te ima­gery.

The ac­ti­vi­ties at the Yeong­jeo-dong mis­si­le ba­se near North Ko­rea’s bor­der with Chi­na and the ex­pan­sion of a new sus­pec­ted mis­si­le fa­ci­lity 7 mi­les away are the la­test in­di­ca­tions that North Ko­rea is con­ti­nuing to im­pro­ve its mis­si­le ca­pa­bi­li­ties, said Jeffrey Le­wis and Da­vid Sch­mer­ler of the Midd­le­bury Ins­ti­tu­te of In­ter­na­tio­nal Stu­dies at Mon­te­rey in Ca­li­for­nia. And they co­me des­pi­te Pre­si­dent Do­nald Trump’s re­pea­ted claims of pro­gress in ef­forts to de­nu­clea­ri­ze the North.

Le­wis and Sch­mer­ler said they we­re still not su­re whet­her Yeong­jeo-dong and the new fa­ci­lity un­der cons­truc­tion in nearby Hoe­jung-ni, both in the moun­tai­nous area near North Ko­rea’s cen­tral bor­der with Chi­na, we­re se­pa­ra­te ba­ses or parts of a lar­ger sin­gle ope­ra­tion.

But their geo­grap­hic lo­ca­tions ma­ke them ideal to “hou­se lon­gran­ge mis­si­les,” they said in a re­port they we­re pre­pa­ring.

“The ba­se is lo­ca­ted in the in­te­rior of North Ko­rea, bac­ked up against the Chi­ne­se bor­der,” they said. “It is this lo­ca­tion that leads us to be­lie­ve that the ge­ne­ral area is a strong can­di­da­te for the de­ploy­ment of fu­tu­re mis­si­les that can stri­ke the Uni­ted Sta­tes.”

Mi­li­tary plan­ners in Seoul and Was­hing­ton ha­ve long sus­pec­ted that North Ko­rea would de­ploy its in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal ba­llis­tic mis­si­les as clo­se to Chi­na as pos­si­ble to re­du­ce the li­ke­lihood of pre-em­pti­ve stri­kes from the Uni­ted Sta­tes.

“This is one of the im­por­tant lo­ca­tions in North Ko­rea our mi­li­tary is mo­ni­to­ring in coope­ra­tion with the Uni­ted Sta­tes,” Roh Jae­cheon, a South Ko­rean mi­li­tary spo­kes­man, said Thurs­day about the North Ko­rean ba­se. He de­cli­ned to sha­re furt­her de­tails.

Fo­llo­wing his Ju­ne sum­mit in Sin­ga­po­re with Kim Jong Un, the North Ko­rean lea­der, Trump clai­med that the­re was “no lon­ger a nu­clear th­reat from North Ko­rea.” His ad­mi­nis­tra­tion has al­so re­pea­tedly clai­med pro­gress in talks with North Ko­rea, ci­ting the lack of nu­clear and ba­llis­tic mis­si­le tests sin­ce the country laun­ched its Hwa­song-15 in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal ba­llis­tic mis­si­le in No­vem­ber of last year.

That mis­si­le was con­si­de­red by so­me ex­perts to be ca­pa­ble of rea­ching any part of the con­ti­nen­tal Uni­ted Sta­tes, alt­hough North Ko­rea is not yet be­lie­ved to ha­ve the abi­lity to de­li­ver nu­clear war­heads on such mis­si­les.

Af­ter the Hwa­song-15 test, Kim said he had a “nu­clear but­ton” on his desk that could send mis­si­les hurtling to­ward the con­ti­nen­tal Uni­ted Sta­tes. In April, he pla­ced a mo­ra­to­rium on nu­clear or long-ran­ge mis­si­le tests, sa­ying his country no lon­ger nee­ded to con­duct them. He la­ter clo­sed his country’s only known nu­clear test si­te and of­fe­red to de­mo­lish a stand for tes­ting mis­si­le en­gi­nes.

In his mee­ting with Trump, Kim ma­de a va­gue pled­ge to “work to­ward the com­ple­te de­nu­clea­ri­za­tion of the Ko­rean Pe­nin­su­la” in re­turn for “new” re­la­tions and se­cu­rity gua­ran­tees from Was­hing­ton.

But Kim has yet to cla­rify whet­her and when he might dis­mantle his nu­clear war­heads and de­li­very mis­si­les. Nor has he aban­do­ned ins­truc­tions to “mass pro­du­ce” the­se wea­pons that he ga­ve as re­cently as his New Year’s speech in Ja­nuary.

In a re­port pu­blis­hed last month, a Was­hing­ton-ba­sed re­search ins­ti­tu­tion, the Cen­ter for Stra­te­gic and In­ter­na­tio­nal Stu­dies, said it had lo­ca­ted mo­re than a do­zen North Ko­rean mis­si­le ba­ses still in ope­ra­tion.

In their new re­port, Le­wis and Sch­mer­ler said that whi­le clo­sing the test stand would ma­ke it har­der for the North to de­sign new kinds of mis­si­les, “it would not pre­vent North Ko­rea from con­ti­nuing to mass pro­du­ce and de­ploy exis­ting ty­pes of nu­clear-ar­med mis­si­les that can stri­ke the Uni­ted Sta­tes.”

Tho­se mis­si­les are being de­plo­yed at ba­ses th­roug­hout North Ko­rea des­pi­te the Sin­ga­po­re mee­ting, they said.

“Any de­nu­clea­ri­za­tion agree­ment would re­qui­re North Ko­rea to allow in­ter­na­tio­nal ins­pec­tors to de­ter­mi­ne that the­se units are no lon­ger ar­med with nu­clear wea­pons,” they said.

Many of the­se ba­ses, in­clu­ding the Yeong­jeo-dong fa­ci­lity, ha­ve been known to out­si­de analysts. But Le­wis and Sch­mer­ler said that in re­cent years North Ko­rea had sig­ni­fi­cantly ex­pan­ded what ap­pea­red to be anot­her mis­si­le ba­se in Hoe­jung-ni.

Using sa­te­lli­te ima­gery, they lo­ca­ted tun­nels in Yeong­jeo-dong that might be used for sto­ring mis­si­les and the cons­truc­tion of a new head­quar­ters, as well as a pair of dri­ve-th­rough shel­ters in Hoe­jung-ni sui­ta­ble for lar­ge ba­llis­tic mis­si­les and “an ex­tre­mely lar­ge un­der­ground fa­ci­lity” un­der cons­truc­tion fart­her up a na­rrow va­lley.

© 2018 New York Ti­mes News Ser­vi­ce

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