N. Korea mis­sile base raises con­cerns

Centre Daily Times - - Obituaries - BY CHOE SANG-HUN

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 seven 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 long-range 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 Jae-cheon, 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.

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.

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