North Korea Seen Rebuilding Long-range Rocket Test Site After Second Summit With U.S. Fails

North Korea appears to have rebuilt an engine test stand in a matter of days.
CSIS/Beyond Parallel/DigitalGlobe, 2019

Satellite imagery suggests that North Korea may be taking steps to reactivate a partially decommissioned long-range rocket test site on the country’s west coast.

Experts say they see evidence that workers are rebuilding at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. In a matter of days, a rocket-engine test stand and a large transfer structure have been reassembled, according to Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a senior fellow for imagery analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The structures were taken down over the course of last summer, Bermudez says, and reassembled in a matter of days.

“We’ve seen a remarkably quick rebuilding,” he says.

News of the apparent activity comes less than a week after a second summit between the U.S. and North Korea ended in stalemate. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 27 and 28. But the two sides wrapped up talks early after it became apparent that they were far apart on any deal over North Korea’s nuclear program.

North Korea wanted sanctions relief in exchange for the dismantlement of a major nuclear weapons research site at Yongbyon. The U.S., meanwhile, insisted that the North must surrender its entire nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits.

The Sohae facility, also referred to as Dongchang-ri and Tongchang-ri, is the site from which North Korea attempted satellite launches in 2012 and 2016. It’s also the location of a test stand that Pyongyang has used to fire some of its rocket engines on the ground.

More recently, Sohae figured prominently in the ongoing talks between North Korea and the United States. Last June, after the first U.S.-North Korea summit, in Singapore, Trump said Kim had given his word that he would close “a major missile-engine testing site.”

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SOURCE: NPR, Geoff Brumfiel