Satellite images from mid-June show that North Korea has started to dismantle a weapons testing site it has used for most rocket tests since 2012.
This behavior follows the signing of a denuclearization agreement in which North Korea promised to move towards denuclearization in exchange for certain “security guarantees” from the United States. The agreement was signed after President Trump met with Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12th.
On Monday, Trump confirmed he was not angry about the progress or lack of progress being made in North Korea. Last week, he said there was “no time limit” on future denuclearization negotiations with North Korea.
“A rocket has not been launched by North Korea in 9 months. Likewise, no nuclear tests. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy,” tweeted Trump.
The facilities now being torn down are “believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program,” reports Washington-based think tank 38 North. “These efforts represent a significant confidence-building measure on the part of North Korea.”
North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic program was particularly worrisome considering Kim’s stated goal of building a weapon that could carry a nuke to the US mainland.
The dismantling “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,” says Jenny Town, managing editor of 38 North.
Experts say the complete destruction of the site would eliminate the easiest spot from which the North could fire multiple ICBMs in a row (as far as we know), but critics worry the operation is one big PR move.
“The question is whether it will be a meaningful development in the long term. That depends on whether they continue to disable and dismantle their ballistic missile proton and testing facilities,” notes 38 North Analyst Joseph Bermudez.
As critics have pointed out, the regime has not invited inspectors to view the operation or offered to destroy facilities known to store or produce nuclear or missile systems.