Satellite images suggest North Korea planned space launch even before Hanoi |

Satellite images suggest North Korea planned space launch even before Hanoi

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Hanoi. At front right is Kim Yong Chol, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief. At left is national security adviser John Bolton.

TOKYO — Satellite images suggest North Korea was preparing to launch a space rocket even before the breakdown of the Hanoi summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, experts say.

There is no way of knowing whether Pyongyang will follow through with the plans, which would undoubtedly be seen negatively in Washington and could derail an already shaky negotiation process. Meanwhile, signs of hardening attitudes within the Trump administration have left several experts increasingly pessimistic.

The plans may reflect a feeling that talks had already hit an impasse even before the summit, as well as North Korean frustration with a lack of sanctions relief, expert say. North Korean leader Kim warned in a New Year’s Day speech that he might be forced to follow a “new path” if the United States demanded unilateral concessions and failed to lift sanctions.

The images showed signs of activity on Feb. 22 at Second Academy of Natural Sciences at Sanumdong, just outside Pyongyang, which is North Korea’s primary developer of ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles.

Other images show North Korea has rebuilt a launchpad and rocket engine test site at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, reinforcing suspicions that a rocket launch could be imminent.

In 2012, an agreement between North Korea and the Obama administration to cease nuclear and missile tests in return for food aid broke down after Pyongyang launched a satellite rocket. Trump has set considerable store in a promise by Kim Jong Un to suspend testing, and said on Friday he would be “very disappointed” if testing resumed.

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