North Korea Begins Dismantling Nuclear Rocket Launch Site

1,021

The first significant step towards denuclearisation following last month’s historic summit between Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, North Korea has begun dismantling key facilities at a site used to develop engines for ballistic missiles. After the summit, Trump had declared the North Korean nuclear threat was effectively over, and US media reports suggest he is privately furious at the lack of any subsequent progress on the denuclearization issue.

Since 2012, the Sohae Satellite Launching Station has been the main site for North Korean satellite launches. The testing facilities at the site are thought to play a role in the development of liquid-fuel engines that can also be used in North Korea’s ballistic missile programme. New commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae station indicates that the North has begun dismantling key facilities.

The small but significant disarmament include the railmounted processing buildingwhere space launch vehicles are assembled before moving them to the launch padand the nearby rocket engine test stand used to develop liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles. The international community has labelled Pyongyang’s space programme a fig leaf for weapons tests.

As these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile programme, these efforts represent a significant confidence building measure on the part of North Korea. Commercial satellite imagery of the launch pad from July 20 shows that the rail-mounted processing/transfer structure has been moved to the middle of the pad, exposing the underground rail transfer point.

China and Russia have argued that North Korea should be rewarded with the prospect of eased sanctions for opening up dialogue with the United States and halting missile tests. South Korea has also pushed ahead with its reconciliation with the North since a landmark inter-Korean summit in April. Last week, Trump said there was “no rush” and “no time limit” on denuclearisation negotiations.

Seoul’s defense ministry said Tuesday it was considering withdrawing some troops from the border Demilitarized Zone on a trial basis. Kim and the South’s president Moon Jae-in, at their April summit, agreed to cease all hostile acts and turn their border into a “peace zone”.