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North Korea is dismantling a nuclear testing site, satellite images show

North Korea conducts a missile test. (ABC News/YouTube)
July 24, 2018

Images released Monday revealed that North Korea has begun to dismantle its key nuclear facilities.

A report by monitoring group 38 North revealed satellite images confirming that the Sohae Satellite Launching Station – the primary satellite launching facility of North Korea – is undergoing dismantling efforts.

The site is believed to have driven the development of North Korea’s ballistic missile technology.

“Since these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence-building measure on the part of North Korea,” 38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez Jr. said in the report.

Photos between July 20 and July 22 show substantial progress in dismantling a rail-mounted processing structure on the launch pad, and several construction vehicles present.

“Most notably, these include the rail-mounted processing building – where space launch vehicles are assembled before moving them to the launchpad – and the nearby rocket engine test stand used to develop liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles,” Bermudez said.

Dismantling efforts are also occurring at the vertical engine test stand site. An environmental shelter has been removed, while fuel bunkers and the test stand framework are in the process of dismantlement.

“Given the state of activity, work is likely to have begun sometime within the past two weeks,” Bermudez said.

Some remain skeptical of North Korea’s efforts, especially after reports revealing that North Korea still maintains nuclear bomb-making materials.

Federation of American Scientists director and senior fellow Adam Mount told CNN the efforts “are encouraging and helpful for extending talks” but warned they “are not themselves a major material step toward disarmament or militarily significant restrictions.”

“This is consistent with North Korea’s public line, which is that its successful test program is now transitioning to mass production of nuclear and missile systems,” he said.

“Dismantling test infrastructure, especially for space launch vehicles, does not change this calculation. It’s also troubling that North Korea has apparently been allowed to dodge verification at both Punggye-ri and Sohae. That will have to be fixed for subsequent agreements,” Mount added.

President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been calling for patience as U.S. diplomats work to build trust with North Korea and ease tensions so further negotiations can take place.

However, some members of Congress are frustrated with the lack of details provided on the progress.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Menendez, a Democrat, said he’s looking forward to answers from Pompeo when the Secretary testifies on Capitol Hill later this week.

“We all want diplomacy to succeed, so I am interested to hear more from Secretary Pompeo this Wednesday on his views on this development — and if he considers this to be significant,” Menendez said.