WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Thursday determined that the missile test of the engine site that says North Korea has pledged to destroy, but the president’s latest comments about how to resolve the nuclear standoff have raised new questions about what concessions Pyongyang has made.
President, Donald Trump had said on June 12, after his summit with Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean leader was “destroying” a missile site, in addition to committing to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.
The testing of the site in question is in Ch’olsan County, North pyongan province, and is sometimes referred to as the Sohae Satellite Launching from the Ground, according to an administration official. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, would not answer questions about whether the site is already destroyed, but said that the negotiations forward, the administration would continue to monitor the area where North Korea tested liquid propellant rocket engines, engines for long-range missiles.
North Korea has conducted satellite launches in the space of Sohae in 2012 and 2016, drawing international condemnation as the rocket technology used can be adapted for use with ballistic missiles. There are also facilities for the testing of the rocket engines. Commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae station on June 12, shows no visible activity in connection with the separation of the rocket engine tests, according to 38 North, a Washington-based website that tracks developments in the isolated nation’s weapons programs.
Trump boasted at a cabinet meeting Thursday that his administration has been a “great success” with North Korea, adding that denuclearisation process had already begun.
The president’s comments, however, ran counter to comments by the Defence Secretary James Mattis made the day before. Mattis told reporters Wednesday that he did not know that North Korea had not yet taken steps in the direction of denuclearization. “I’m not aware of. Of course, we are at the front end of the process. Detailed negotiations have not yet started,” he said.
Trump said Kim is stopped with the testing of missiles, including ballistic missiles to the United States, and is destroying the engine testing of the site — a clear reference to Sohae. “They blow it up,” he said.
Researchers are debating the meaning of that promise.
It will depend on what facilities they destroyed at Sohae — one of the several sites that are used for the development of the North’s ballistic missiles, said Jenny Town, a research analyst on North Korea at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.
“If it’s just the engine tests at Sohae that will be dismantled, diplomacy has value, but it doesn’t really from North Korea, the ability to test more engines if they chose to do this on a other provision,” the City said.
“If they have the dismantling of more facilities at Sohae, such as the launch pad itself, that would be a very large development, if Sohae is their most important satellite launch facility. It could signal North Korea is willing to put a moratorium on satellite launches in addition to their missile and nuclear tests, which is a point of discussion in the past events and the failure of the negotiations in the past. But of course this is a big if.”
By the decision of the council of ministers, Trump also referred to concessions in North Korea is supposedly made: “They’ve already blown up one of their large test sites. In fact, it was actually four large test sites,” he said.
Trump was, undoubtedly, referring to North Korea’s demolition at the end of May of a nuclear test site at Punggye-ri in a remote area in the northeast of the country. But it is unclear what Trump meant when he went on to say “it was actually four large test sites.”
Punggye-ri was built with multiple tunnels suitable for testing of nuclear weapons. During the demolition, a group of journalists, including The Associated Press, witnessed a series of massive explosions which focused on the entrances to three tunnels. The explosions caused landslides in the vicinity of the tunnel entrances and to the clouds of smoke and dust.