Amid reports that a North Korean rocket launch facility is once again operational, President Donald Trump said Friday that he would “very disappointed” if he saw signs of any renewed testing at nuclear or missile sites.
He told reporters that he has had a “good relationship” with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un “and it remains good.”
“I would be very surprised in a negative way if he did anything that was not per our understanding,” the president said.
South Korea’s military said Thursday that it is carefully monitoring North Korean nuclear and missile facilities after the country’s spy agency told lawmakers that new activity was detected at the Sanumdong research center where the North is believed to build long-range missiles targeting the U.S. mainland, the Associated Press reported.
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said the U.S. and South Korean militaries are sharing intelligence over the developments at the research center on the outskirts of the capital, Pyongyang, and at the separate Sohae long-range rocket site. She did not elaborate the purported developments.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, based in Washington, reported Thursday that North Korea’s efforts at Sohae amount to a “snapback” from the dismantlement it undertook after the first summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore in June.
“The rebuilding activities at Sohae demonstrate how quickly North Korea can easily render reversible any steps taken toward scrapping its WMD program with little hesitation,” the CSIS said in a study authored by Joseph Bermudez and Victor Cha. “This poses challenges for the U.S. goal of final, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization.”
38 North, a North Korea monitoring site, also reported Thursday that satellite images show rapid construction to rebuild a launch pad and a rocket engine test stand at Sohae. But Joel Wit, a former official at the State Department and the founder of 38 North, cautioned on Twitter, against reading too much into the reports, noting the site was used for space launch vehicles and has never been used to test intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters Thursday that the U.S. is “watching in real time” developments at the site.
According to the official, Kim had twice pledged to dismantle Sohae — once at the Singapore summit and again in a meeting with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in in September.
Kim also said independent inspectors would be allowed to verify compliance on the ground, the official said.
“The intent of the North Koreans in this matter is known only to them, we don’t know why they are taking these steps,” the official told reporters. “They need to keep their commitments to the president of the United States.”
The official added the Trump administration would be looking for clarification from Pyongyang.
After the collapse of the North Korean-U.S. summit last week in Hanoi, Trump blamed Pyongyang for demanding sanctions be lifted “in their entirety” while offering to denuclearize “less important” areas than the U.S. demanded.
North Korean officials refuted the claim, saying that they only asked for partial sanctions relief in exchange for permanently dismantling all fissile material facilities at the country’s Yongbyon complex.
The State Department then clarified the U.S. position, walking back Trump’s assertions.
According to a senior official who briefed the media on condition he not be named because he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly, the North Koreans “basically asked for the lifting of all sanctions.”
But he acknowledged the North’s demand was only that Washington back the lifting of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed since March 2016 and did not include other resolutions going back a decade more.
On Thursday, Trump told reporters that said ““we’ll let you know in about a year,” on the outcome of U.S. efforts to get Kim to give up his pursuit of nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from sanctions.
In a reflection of new wrinkles in bilateral relations, a North Korean newspaper called on North Koreans to be self-reliant to achieve independent development and not to buckle under to foreign powers
“National independence is the shortcut to power and prosperity whereas relying on foreign forces is a path to subordination and national ruin,” the Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in an editorial, according to the South Korean Yonhap news agency.
“At a time where imperialists’ abuse of power dominates, we should stick to self-reliance in order to achieve our nation’s independent development,” it said.
Contributing: Associated Press
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