U.S. spy agencies: North Korea is working on new missiles

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© Planet/James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International… A May 28 satellite image of a building that U.S. analysts believe is a secret uranium enrichment facility near North Korea’s capital.

 

U.S. spy agencies are seeing signs that North Korea is constructing new missiles at a factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, according to officials familiar with the intelligence.

Newly obtained evidence, including satellite photos taken in recent weeks, indicates that work is underway on at least one and possibly two liquid-fueled ICBMs at a large research facility in Sanumdong, on the outskirts of Pyongyang, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe classified intelligence.

The findings are the latest to show ongoing activity inside North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities at a time when the country’s leaders are engaged in arms talks with the United States. The new intelligence does not suggest an expansion of North Korea’s capabilities but shows that work on advanced weapons is continuing weeks after President Trump declared in a Twitter posting that Pyongyang was “no longer a Nuclear Threat.”

The reports about new missile construction come after recent revelations about a suspected uranium enrichment facility, called Kangson, that North Korea is operating in secret. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged during Senate testimony last week that North Korean factories “continue to produce fissile material” used in making nuclear weapons. He declined to say whether Pyongyang is building new missiles.

During a summit with Trump in June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to a vaguely worded pledge to “work toward” the “denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. But since then, North Korea has made few tangible moves signaling an intention to disarm.

Instead, senior North Korean officials have discussed their intention to deceive Washington about the number of nuclear warheads and missiles they have, as well as the types and numbers of facilities, and to rebuff international inspectors, according to intelligence gathered by U.S. agencies. Their strategy includes potentially asserting that they have fully denuclearized by declaring and disposing of 20 warheads while retaining dozens more.

The Sanumdong factory has produced two of North Korea’s ICBMs, including the powerful Hwasong-15, the first with a proven range that could allow it to strike the U.S. East Coast. The newly obtained evidence points to ongoing work on at least one Hwasong-15 at the Sanumdong plant, according to imagery collected by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in recent weeks.

“We see them going to work, just as before,” said one U.S. official, who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity in discussing sensitive intelligence. The exception, the officials said, is the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on North Korea’s west coast, where workers can be observed dismantling an engine test stand, honoring a promise made to Trump at the summit.

“Regime survival and perpetuation of Kim family rule” are Kim’s guiding principles, he said. “The nuclear program provides them with a deterrent in their mind against regime change by the United States. Giving up the nuclear capability will violate the two fundamental centers of gravity in the North Korean regime.”

Pompeo, at the Senate hearing last week, sought to assure lawmakers that the disarmament talks with North Korea remained on track and that the effort to dismantle the country’s nuclear arsenal was just getting underway. He brushed aside suggestions that the administration had been deceived by Kim. “We have not been taken for a ride,” he said.

But some independent analysts think the Trump administration has misread Kim’s intentions, interpreting his commitment to eventual denuclearization as a promise to immediately surrender the country’s nuclear arsenal and dismantle its weapons factories.

“We have this backward. North Korea is not negotiating to give up their nuclear weapons,” Lewis said. “They are negotiating for recognition of their nuclear weapons. They’re willing to put up with certain limits, like no nuclear testing and no ICBM testing. What they’re offering is: They keep the bomb, but they stop talking about it.”

Full article: U.S. spy agencies: North Korea is working on new missiles (The Washington Post)

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