North Korea dis­man­tle­ment be­gins Trump sees vin­di­ca­tion on nukes; skep­tics say much left un­done

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

New satel­lite im­agery sug­gests that Pres­i­dent Trump’s land­mark sum­mit last month with North Korean dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-un has re­turned its first sig­nif­i­cant div­i­dend, pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence that Py­ongyang has be­gun to dis­man­tle por­tions of a key mis­sile test site.

Pic­tures taken late last week and made pub­lic last week show North Korean work­ers ap­par­ently dis­as­sem­bling its So­hae Satel­lite Launch­ing Sta­tion, a site used to make liq­uid-fuel en­gines for bal­lis­tic mis­siles and space-launch ve­hi­cles. The move rep­re­sents the first con­crete step taken by Mr. Kim since his June 12 meet­ing with Mr. Trump in Sin­ga­pore and comes as wel­come news for an ad­min­is­tra­tion that has been un­der in­creas­ing fire for fail­ing to pro­duce any tan­gi­ble re­sults from the sum­mit.

But law­mak­ers, re­gional an­a­lysts and even the pres­i­dent’s sec­re­tary of state were urg­ing cau­tion amid fears that the reclu­sive regime may sim­ply be stalling and that no in­de­pen­dent ob­servers were present to con­firm the North’s moves.

The pres­i­dent, who re­port­edly has grown an­gry with news cov­er­age of the meet­ing, told a crowd in Kansas City, Mis­souri, that the satel­lite pic­tures prove that the ne­go­ti­a­tion process with North Korea is “go­ing very well.”

“We’re also pur­su­ing the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of North Korea and a new fu­ture of pros­per­ity, se­cu­rity and peace on the Korean Penin­sula and all of Asia. New im­ages, just to­day, show that North Korea has be­gun the process of dis­man­tling a key mis­sile site. And we ap­pre­ci­ate that,” Mr. Trump said at an an­nual Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars con­ven­tion. “We had a fantastic meet­ing with Chair­man Kim, and it seems to be go­ing very well.”

The satel­lite im­ages were re­leased by 38 North, an arm of the Stim­son Cen­ter, a lead­ing Washington think tank.

While Mr. Trump and South Korean lead­ers lauded the news, other top ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and lead­ing law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing some promi­nent Repub­li­cans, were more muted, and there are se­ri­ous ques­tions about whether the So­hae fa­cil­ity still plays a ma­jor part in Py­ongyang’s nu­clear am­bi­tions. Sen. Marco Ru­bio, Florida Repub­li­can, said the U.S. shouldn’t as­sume the Korean Penin­sula is any safer now that the site is be­ing dis­man­tled.

“Any dis­man­tling by #NorthKorea is good. But we should be care­ful not to get too giddy about this one,” he said on Twit­ter. “This is largely sym­bolic & does lit­tle to de­grade their dan­ger­ous & grow­ing ICBM ca­pa­bil­ity which re­lies on dif­fer­ent sites & dif­fer­ent tech­nol­ogy.”

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, Mr. Trump’s point man in the nu­clear talks with Mr. Kim, would not con­firm the re­ports of So­hae’s de­struc­tion, though he said the step would be con­sis­tent with the broad out­lines of the dis­cus­sions in Sin­ga­pore. He said in­spec­tors should be on the ground in­side North Korea to ver­ify the moves — some­thing Mr. Kim ap­par­ently has not al­lowed.

“It would be en­tirely con­sis­tent with the com­mit­ment that Chair­man Kim made to Pres­i­dent Trump when the two of them were in Sin­ga­pore to­gether. We made that com­mit­ment orally,” Mr. Pom­peo said at a Cal­i­for­nia news con­fer­ence along­side De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis and top Aus­tralian of­fi­cials. “We’ve been press­ing for there to be in­spec­tors on the ground when that en­gine test fa­cil­ity is dis­man­tled, con­sis­tent with Chair­man Kim’s com­mit­ment.”

South Korean sup­port

De­spite the skep­ti­cism in Washington, of­fi­cials in South Korea said the move should be seen as a pos­i­tive step for­ward in what is sure to be a long, slow-mov­ing process.

“We see it as a good sign and as part of the step-by-step process toward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion,” said Nam Gwan-pyo, deputy di­rec­tor of South Korea’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Of­fice, told The Korea Times. South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in, a long­time pro­po­nent of en­gage­ment with the North, has been a prime mover in the U.S.-North Korean rap­proche­ment.

In its re­search, 38 North — which re­leased at least eight pho­to­graphs show­ing parts of the fa­cil­ity be­ing taken apart over the past sev­eral days — said the site has served as North Korea’s main satel­lite launch hub for the past six years.

“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,” the re­search group said.

Specif­i­cally, 38 North said pho­tos show large con­struc­tion cranes and the ap­par­ent dis­as­sem­bling of a key rail-mounted pro­cess­ing and trans­fer struc­ture. Older fuel/ ox­i­dizer bunkers also are be­ing razed, and a mis­sile test stand has been taken apart. Other parts of the fa­cil­ity — such as newer fuel/ox­i­dizer bunkers and a large ve­hi­cle garage — ap­pear to have not been touched.

But re­gional an­a­lysts say the move leaves the U.S. far short of Mr. Trump’s orig­i­nal de­mand: a quick, com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible end to the North’s nu­clear weapons and mis­sile pro­grams. The North has sent mixed sig­nals on its readi­ness to give up its nu­clear pro­grams, and Mr. Trump’s crit­ics say there is still no firm out­line of the steps North Korea is will­ing to take.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pom­peo sug­gested that they learned of So­hae’s dis­man­tling from the satel­lite im­agery, not from di­rect talks with the North Kore­ans.

“It is re­mark­able that we do not have on pa­per what is frozen, what mis­sile tests are not tak­ing place, whether or not nu­clear tests are be­ing done. As we have seen in pre­vi­ous cases, that can be a dis­as­ter,” Richard John­son, se­nior di­rec­tor for fuel cy­cle and ver­i­fi­ca­tion at the Nu­clear Threat Ini­tia­tive, said this week at an event in Washington hosted by the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

“We need to leave the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble with the same un­der­stand­ing, and we should get it in writ­ing,” he said. “We have mul­ti­ple cases where the U.S. and North Korea got to­gether, thought they had a deal and then walked away. And it be­came clear that they did not [have] the same un­der­stand­ing.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This satel­lite im­age re­leased and an­no­tated by 38 North on Mon­day shows what the U.S. re­search group says is the par­tial dis­man­tling of the rail-mounted trans­fer struc­ture (cen­ter) at the key So­hae mis­sile launch site in North Korea.

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