North Korea begins dismantling key missiles facilities

Washington: North Korea has begun dismantling key facilities at a site used to develop engines for ballistic missiles, according to an analysis of satellite imagery, the first significant step towards denuclearisation following the last month's historic summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.

The Sohae Satellite Launching Station has been the main site for North Korean satellite launches since 2012. 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.

The images published by 38 North, a US-based website focused on North Korea that is affiliated with the Stimson Center in Washington, were taken on July 20 and July 22, respectively.

New commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae station indicates that the North has begun dismantling key facilities, the 38 North said in a report. If the analysis of the satellite imagery is accurate, North Korea may be taking a small but significant step toward the disarmament that was agreed upon by the North Korean leader and President Trump during a landmark meeting in Singapore on June 12, it said.

Most notably, these include the rail-mounted processing building where space launch vehicles are assembled 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, the 38 North said.

Since 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, the North Korea-focused website said.

According to 38 North, 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, one of the few times it has been seen in this location. The roof and supporting structure have been partially removed and numerous vehicles are present, including a large construction crane, it said, adding that an image from two days later shows the continued presence of the crane and vehicles.

Noting that considerable progress has been made in dismantling the rail-mounted processing/transfer structure, it said one corner has been completely dismantled, and the parts can be seen lying on the ground.

In both images, the two fuel/oxidizer bunkers, main processing building and gantry tower remain untouched. 38 North said that the imagery of the vertical engine test stand from July 20 shows the presence of a crane and a number of vehicles.

"The rail-mounted environmental shelter, which had not been moved since December 2017, has been razed and removed, the older fuel/oxidizer bunkers are in the process of being razed and portions of the test stand's upper steel framework have been dismantled and its panelling removed," it said.

Two days later, fewer vehicles are present, and the test stand superstructure has been completely dismantled, leaving only the base, which is also in the process of being removed, it added.

"No additional progress is noted on the demolition of the older fuel/oxidizer bunkers. In both images, the two newer fuel/oxidizer bunkers and vehicle garage remain untouched, as does the concrete foundation of the test stand. Given the state of activity, work is likely to have begun sometime within the past two weeks," 38 North said.

Meanwhile, President Trump in a tweet yesterday rejected the "Fake News" that he was angry because progress was not happening fast enough with North Korea. "Wrong, very happy!" he said in the Tweet. "A Rocket has not been launched by North Korea in 9 months. Likewise, no Nuclear Tests. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy," he said.

The US, however, has been fretting over lack of North Korean actions toward dismantling its nuclear and missile programmes, and in spite of positive assessments Trump has given on progress with North Korea, he has vented anger at aides over the lack of immediate progress, the Washington Post reported.

Last week, Trump said there was "no rush" and "no time limit" on denuclearisation negotiations.


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