The US still believes the “fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea is possible by the end of President Donald Trump’s “first term,” a senior official said Thursday, despite warnings a key rocket launch site appears to have resumed operations.
The specialized website 38 North and the Center for Strategic and International Studies used commercial satellite imagery to track construction at the site — which they said began before last week’s aborted summit in Hanoi between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Images taken on March 6 showed that a rail-mounted structure to transfer rockets to the launching pad appeared to have been completed and “may now be operational.”
Cranes have been removed from the pad, while progress also appeared to have been made on rebuilding the support structure for a rocket engine testing stand.
“Given that construction, plus activity at other areas of the site, Sohae (Satellite Launching Station) appears to have returned to normal operational status,” 38 North’s report said.
The senior official confirmed that Washington would seek from Pyongyang “clarifications on the purposes” of rebuilding the site.
“We don’t know why they are taking these steps,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
Kim had agreed to shutter Sohae at a summit with the South’s President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang as part of confidence-building measures, and satellite pictures in August suggested workers were dismantling the engine test stand.
Trump equivocated when asked Thursday if he was disappointed about the news. “We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll let you know in about a year.”
The president had declared that it was “too early” to tell if a previous report about activity at the site was true, but said he would be “very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim” if the intelligence checked out.