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North Korea still building ballistic missiles at 16 secret bases, new report says

On July 10, 2018, in Pyongyang, North Korea, Kim Jong Un, leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, inspects a construction site at Samjiyon County in the Mount Paektu region. (Kcna/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)
November 13, 2018

A Washington-based think tank revealed a new report Monday that shows satellite images indicating North Korea is still developing ballistic missiles that could hold nuclear warheads at 16 secret military bases, including at least one not previously identified.

The Beyond Parallel program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies identified the bases in its report while stating, “These missile operating bases, which can be used for all classes of ballistic missile from short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) up to and including intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), would presumably have to be subject to declaration, verification and dismantlement in any final and fully verifiable denuclearization deal.” The report also points out that the missile operating bases “are not launch facilities.”

A satellite image analyst and co-author of the report, Joseph Bermudez Jr., told The New York Times that the effort North Korea has put into the bases “is impressive.”

“It looks like they’re trying to maximize their capabilities. Any missile at these bases can take a nuclear warhead,” he told the Times.

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The U.S. earlier this month abruptly delayed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s high-level talk on denuclearization with a top North Korean official in New York City, citing scheduling as the issue but not saying when the meeting would be rescheduled.

This came amid rhetoric from North Korea that the U.S. should ease up on sanctions if its wants to achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula – tensions between North Korea and the U.S. recently rose when North Korea threatened to resume its nuclear weapons program if the U.S. doesn’t lift economic sanctions.

Pompeo had in October met again with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and said the meeting was “productive.”

Kim had later in the day agreed to a second summit with President Donald Trump at the “earliest possible date.”

However, earlier this month, North Korea threatened to possibly restart its nuclear weapons program if the United States doesn’t lift economic sanctions.

“If the U.S. keeps behaving arrogant without showing any change in its stand … the DPRK may add one thing to the state line for directing all efforts to the economic construction adopted in April and as a result, the word ‘pyongjin’ (simultaneously conducting economic construction and building up nuclear forces) may appear again and the change of the line could be seriously reconsidered,” according to a statement from the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

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Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has been in the international spotlight throughout the year, and it was a major theme of the Trump-Kim summit this past June.

Trump said in September that sanctions will remain in effect against North Korea until denuclearization takes place.

When he spoke at the United Nations earlier this year, Trump said he and Kim had “highly productive conversations and meetings,” and they had agreed it was in both parties’ best interests to pursue the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

And, the second U.S.-North Korea summit with Kim Jong Un is probably happening “quite soon,” Trump had told reporters that week.

The President has also pointed out how his relationship with Kim has improved since last year, when it felt like every other week there were reports of North Korea firing off nuclear missile tests.

The State Department gave the following statement to the Times this week: “President Trump has made clear that should Chairman Kim follow through on his commitments, including complete denuclearization and the elimination of ballistic missile programs, a much brighter future lies ahead for North Korea and its people.”

Meanwhile, South Korea said this report is “nothing new” and that the characterization of the missile activity is a “great deception,” as North Korea has never promised to dismantle its military bases, a South Korean spokesman for President Moon Jae-in told the Times.

“North Korea has never promised to dismantle its missile bases, nor has it ever joined any treaty that obligates it to dismantle them. So calling this a ‘deception’ is not appropriate,” spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said. “If anything, the existence of these missile bases highlights the need for negotiation and dialogue, including those between the North and the United States, to eliminate the North Korean threat.”