North Korea appears to have begun dismantling part of a key rocket launch site in the country’s north-west, marking a first step towards fulfilling a pledge made to US President Donald Trump at a June summit.
Satellite images from July 20 show work at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station to dismantle a building used to assemble space-launch vehicles and a nearby test stand used to develop engines for ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles, the Washington-based 38 North think tank said Tuesday (AEST).
“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,” it said in a report.
Mr Trump told a news conference after his unprecedented June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un that the North Korean leader had promised to destroy a major missile engine test site.
The US President did not identify the site, but a US official subsequently told Reuters that it was Sohae.
The 38 North report comes amid growing questions about North Korea’s willingness to live up to the commitments Mr Kim made at the Singapore summit, particularly to work towards denuclearisation.
US officials have repeatedly said North Korea has committed to giving up its nuclear weapons program, but Pyongyang has offered no details as to how it might go about this.
Jenny Town, managing editor of 38 North, said the work at Sohae could be an important move to keep negotiations going.
“This could (and that’s a big could) mean that North Korea is also willing to forgo satellite launches for the time being as well as nuclear and missile tests. This distinction has derailed diplomacy in the past,” she said.
On Friday, senior US officials called on Mr Kim to act on his promise to give up his nuclear weapons and said the world, including China and Russia, must continued to enforce sanctions on Pyongyang until he does so.
On Monday, the US State Department issued an advisory with the departments of Treasury and Homeland Security, alerting businesses to North Korea’s sanctions-evasion tactics.
It said they should “implement effective due diligence policies, procedures, and internal controls to ensure compliance with applicable legal requirements across their entire supply chains”.
In a tweet early on Monday, Mr Trump rejected “Fake News” that he was angry because progress was not happening fast enough with North Korea.
“Wrong, very happy!” he said in the Tweet.
“A Rocket has not been launched by North Korea in 9 months. Likewise, no Nuclear Tests. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy,” he said.