Satellite images of the Sohae station in the Northwest of the country seem to show the facility being dismantled.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on July 24, 2018

North Korea has always maintained the site was simply a satellite launch site but US intelligence believe it has been used for testing rockets.

The analysis comes from 38 North, a US website focused on North Korea and affiliated with the non-profit Henry L. Stimson Center. The website has studied commercial satellite imagery and believes North Korea has started dissembling a rail-mounted processing building which was used to assemble rockets. The rockets were then moved to a launch pad or a test stand.

“Considerable progress has been made in dismantling the rail-mounted processing/transfer structure,” the website reports.

“One corner has been completely dismantled and the parts can be seen lying on the ground.”

38 North also notes that the test stand superstructure has been dismantled and fewer vehicles are now at the site. Some other structures at the site, such as oxidizer bunkers and main processing building, remain in place.

What does it mean if North Korea is tearing down the rocket facility?

If the rocket launch site is being dismantled, it would be the start of North Korea fulfilling a promise made to the US earlier this year.

A deal was struck by Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un at the pair’s long-awaited summit in Singapore last month that aimed to work towards the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula.

Critics of Trump said there was little detail in the deal on how or when Pyongyang would surrender its nuclear weapon program.

The agreement did, however, provide for future meetings between the two nations.

“The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the US-DPRK summit” it reads.

Joel Wit, a former State Department official and a co-founder of 38 North, said the Sohae site was a relatively new facility and some of the structures there were only two years old. He sees the dismantling of this particular site as a tentative step towards denuclearisation.

“I think it’s a significant move, but I don’t want to oversell it,” he said.

“It’s a step in the right direction.”

According to 38 North’s analysis, North Korea was expanding other nuclear research facilities as recently as 21 June 2018. The site did point out, however, that this development did not necessarily equate to North Korea failing to meet its promise to denuclearise.

Trump “very happy” with North Korea’s progress, blasts “fake news”

On 23 July local time, President Trump tweeted that he was “very happy” about the US relationship with North Korea and said that the rogue state had not launched any missiles or undertaken any nuclear tests during the last nine months.

Numerous US media outlets, including CNN and The Washington Post, had reported that Trump had expressed his frustration behind closed doors that North Korea’s denuclearisation program was not progressing more quickly.

Trump hit out at these reports as “fake news” on Twitter and continued his campaign of vitriol against The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos via Nash Holdings.

North Korea had previously undertaken six nuclear tests with the most recent being carried out in September 2017.