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North Korea rebuilding rocket test site

March 6, 2019

New satellite imagery suggests North Korea started rebuilding a rocket launch site before Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump's Vietnam summit. The site had been dismantled last year as part of Kim's denuclearization pledge.

North Korea test firing a rocket at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station
Image: picture-alliance/Yonhap

North Korea has started restoring part of a long-range rocket launch site it dismantled last year, according to a report published on Wednesday by Washington-based think tank 38 North.

Satellite evidence suggests that work had begun at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in the run-up to a summit in Vietnam between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, 38 North said.

"On the launch pad, the rail-mounted transfer building is being reassembled," said the report. "Two support cranes are observed at the building, the walls have been erected and a new roof added. The walls appear to be one segment taller than the previous transfer building and new truss is being installed."

Read more: North Korea does not want to be like East Germany

South Korean media reported on Wednesday that lawmakers were briefed by intelligence officials about ongoing developments at the launch site, which was previously used to assemble space-launch vehicles and conduct rocket engine tests.

The site was dismantled last year as part of Kim's pledge to denuclearize at a historic US-North Korea summit in Singapore.

A TV screen shows a satellite image of North Korea's Sohae launch site
North Korea had dismantled the rocket test site as part of a pledge to end its nuclear programImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Poor diplomacy

The report comes after the second summit between Trump and Kim failed to achieve progress on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Trump blamed the summit breakdown on Kim for demanding extensive sanctions relief in exchange for further denuclearization. But experts told DW that the talks collapsed because Trump had failed to entrust diplomats with carrying out pre-summit negotiations to secure a deal.

"As a consequence, he got into that meeting and he didn't get what he wanted," Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer told DW last week. "They weren't prepped properly, and he had to walk away from the meeting. He has no one to blame but himself."

On Wednesday, Trump said he would be "very, very disappointed" if North Korea were rebuilding the missile site. He added that it was "too early to see" if reports about work at the site were true.

Read more: Opinion: The Trump-Kim summit's predictably disappointing outcome

US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, who led pre-summit negotiations efforts, is expected to meet with South Korean and Japanese negotiators on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he believes Washington will send a delegation to North Korea in the coming weeks. But efforts to restart negotiations could be stalled after Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, warned of "ramping those sanctions up."

International sanctions have crippled North Korea's economy by restricting its access to international shipping, finance and imports of natural resources.

Bad harvest devastates North Korea

The pariah state suffers from chronic food shortages, which the United Nations said had worsened toward the end of 2018 following a 9 percent drop in the country's food harvest.

Natural disasters, a lack of arable land and inefficient agriculture led to the drop of half a million tons of food output, bringing food production to its lowest level in more than a decade.

That meant 3.8 million of the North's 25 million population were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

Sanctions have created unintended delays and challenges, according to the UN's resident coordinator in the North, Tapan Mishra, who called for $120 million (€106 million) to provide life-saving aid.

International donors, she said, should "not let political considerations get in the way of addressing humanitarian need."

ls,ta/amp (Reuters, AP)

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