North Korea sends positive signal by dismantling satellite launch site

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This satellite image courtesy of Airbus Defense and Space and 38 North dated July 22, 2018 shows the apparent dismantling of facilities at the Sohae satellite launch site in North Korea. Photo: AFP/ PlÈiades © Cnes 2018, Distribution Airbus DS / Handout

 

While credibility of denuclearization has still not been established, new moves signal possible North Korean acceptance of US position linking satellites and missile programs

North Korea is dismantling a satellite-launch and rocket-engine test site in a move that seems aimed at boosting confidence in Washington, where signs of frustration have reportedly appeared over the apparent lack of progress on denuclearization.

Authoritative, US-based website 38 North, which boasts a specialized focus on satellite data analysis of North Korea, announced the findings early on Tuesday, complete with photographs of the site, known as the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

Facilities being dismantled include a “rail-mounted processing building — where space launch vehicles are prepared before moving them to the launch pad — and the nearby rocket engine test stand used to develop liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles,” 38 North reported.

“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,” 38 North said.

Honoring promise made to Trump

In June, during their landmark summit in Singapore, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told US President Donald Trump – according to Trump himself – that he was preparing to dismantle a rocket-engine test site.

38 North’s findings appear to indicate that this process is underway.

Acceptance of US view on satellite-missile link?

Credibility still not established

Still, issues hang over the dismantlement steps at Sohae. Like the destruction of above-ground facilities and tunnel entrances at North Korea’s underground nuclear test-site at Punggye-ri in May, the steps being taken appear reversible.

“Are they going to abandon those assets or capabilities? It raises that question, as there is a lot of investment sunk into those projects,” Pinkston said. “Or, are they upgrading? In six months they could build a better facility.”

Neither of the two dismantlement processes, at Sohae and Punggye-ri, were overseen by professional international monitors. Nor has North Korea, as yet, made any apparent preparatory moves to join or rejoin international arms control treaties, such as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, or the Missile Technology Control Regime.

The activities underway at Sohae, “are positive, in the sense that they are necessary,” Pinkston said. “But they are not sufficient to show full compliance with international norms.”

Seoul announces DMZ pullback gesture

Also on Tuesday, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense announced that it would withdraw some guard posts inside the Demilitarized Zone on a trial basis, according to Yonhap news agency.

While heavy weapons are not permitted inside the DMZ – major assets such as armor and artillery are widely deployed on either side of it, by both sides – small infantry positions are maintained inside the 4-kilometer-wide strip that runs across the width of the peninsula.

During their summit in April, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had agreed with the North’s Kim to transform the DMZ into a “peace zone.”

Full article: North Korea sends positive signal by dismantling satellite launch site (Asia Times)

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