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North Korea Reportedly Rebuilding Structures at Rocket Launch Area

2019-3-6

North Korea reportedly has rebuilt structures at a rocket launch site that it had begun to take down last year.

That information comes from foreign observers and a South Korean lawmaker who spoke with the South’s spy service.

North Korea had promised to destroy the Tongchang-ri launch site after the June 2018 meetings between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The Sohae Satellite Launching Station launch pad features what researchers of Beyond Parallel describe as showing the partly rebuilt rocket transfer structure, in this satellite image taken over Tongchang-ri, North Korea.
The Sohae Satellite Launching Station launch pad features what researchers of Beyond Parallel describe as showing the partly rebuilt rocket transfer structure, in this satellite image taken over Tongchang-ri, North Korea.

Two Washington-based groups that follow North Korea say some structures at the launch site have been rebuilt in the past three weeks. The two are the Center for Strategic and International Studies and 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea studies. They say satellite images show the structures were rebuilt over the past month.

Also, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers on Tuesday about the rebuilding.

Recently, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano reported that North Korea’s Yongbyon uranium enrichment site is still active. He added that North Korea is continuing work on an experimental light-water reactor at Yongbyon.

On Tuesday, a top U.S. official said the United States would look at increasing sanctions against North Korea if Kim did not end his country’s nuclear weapons program.

"If they're not willing to do it…we'll look at (increasing) those sanctions up, in fact," said National Security Advisor John Bolton.

North Korea’s nuclear sites

Last month, the U.S. president and North Korean leader traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam, for more talks. Those meetings collapsed when Trump left the negotiations. He said Kim demanded all sanctions on North Korea end at once in exchange for closing down the Yongbyon nuclear facility. The North Korean government denied making that request.

David Albright is the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former nuclear weapons inspector. He said Trump ended the negotiations because the United States knows North Korea can make nuclear weapons at other sites in its country.

“They have enough enrichment facilities outside Yongbyon to make (weapons),” he said.

Jeffrey Lewis is the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California. “The U.S. government believes there are at least two additional enrichment (facilities),” he said.

Olli Heinonen is a former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said that North Korea’s enrichment centers are easy to hide because of the kind of technology they use.

Experts agree that North Korea must declare all its nuclear sites and let inspectors into the country to confirm the destruction of the sites.

North Korea launches

Six months ago, South Korean President Moon Jae-in traveled to Pyongyang to meet with the North Korean leader. At those talks, Kim offered to “permanently shut down” the Tongchang-ri engine test ground and launch area, with foreign observers present.

In a statement, the two men described the move as part of a larger effort to make the Korean peninsula free from nuclear weapons. This could suggest that North Korea was confirming the Tongchang-ri site is a nuclear-related center. After several failures, North Korea successfully launched a satellite from the site in 2012. It had another successful launch in 2016.

North Korea says its satellite program is peaceful. Experts say, however, that nuclear missiles and satellite rockets use similar technology.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has ordered his government to do everything in its power to get the North Korean and U.S. leaders talking again.

“I expect that the two leaders will meet again in the near future,” Moon said, adding that he thinks the two will come to an agreement at their next meeting.

I'm Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted the AP reports for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

site – n. the place where something is, was, or will be

facility – n. something (such as a building or large piece of equipment) that is built for a purpose or reason

sanctions – n. an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, or by barring economic aid for that country

enrich – v. to improve the quality of something