North Korea rebuilds rocket engine test site, in ominous signal about attitude to talks |
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The Washington Post

North Korea has begun rebuilding work on a rocket launch pad and missile engine test site, in an ominous sign about its attitude toward negotiations on denuclearization.

The rebuilding work began some time between Feb. 16 and March 2, according to satellite imagery, meaning it began either just before or immediately after the breakdown of a summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 28.

The site had previously been used to launch satellites rather than missiles, but North Korea had stated it was being dismantled and had promised to allow in international inspectors to verify that process, in a move widely cited as a sign of its good faith.

“Given how much has been done at this site, it looks like more than a couple days’ worth of activity,” said Jenny Town, managing editor of 38 North, a website devoted to analysis of North Korea. “It’s hard to say if it happened immediately after the summit and they just rushed everything — I guess it’s possible — but it’s more likely that it started just before.”

The Tonghang-ri site is situated at the Sohae space station and is North Korea’s largest missile engine test site. Work to dismantle it began shortly after denuclearization negotiations with the United States began, but stalled from August of last year. Now it has gone into reverse.

“It’s unfortunate because this was one of the unilateral steps that the North Koreans were making at the beginning of the negotiation process as sort of a confidence-building measure, and so certainly this does have implications for how the North Koreans are thinking about the negotiation process,” Town said. “It’s highly unlikely that any of these kinds of unilateral measures will be offered again unless there is an actual agreement in place going forward.”

On the launch pad, a rail-mounted transfer building is being reassembled, according to analysis by 38 North, with two support cranes visible. Walls have been erected and appear to be even taller than the previous structure, and a new roof has been added.

At the engine test stand, images appear to show the engine support structure is being reassembled, with two cranes visible and construction materials spread across the stand’s apron, 38 North wrote.

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