North Korea Rebuilding Rocket Sites: What Does This Mean?

As the correspondent for the Koreas, I find myself asking those questions a lot, no more so than now after the much-anticipated Hanoi summit ended without reaching a deal on denuclearisation.

Most of the world’s media have no free access to North Korea, and Kim Jong-un’s Ryongsong Residence isn’t really taking calls from journalists. The best any analyst or correspondent can do is read the signals coming from Pyongyang.

It started with reports from the South Korean intelligence service which suggested work was taking place at Sohae, one of North Korea’s main rocket launch sites.

The site has never been used to launch the type of missiles that ignited Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and earned Kim Jong-un the nickname of “Rocketman”. But Sohae has been used for five satellite launches – two of which were successful. It has also been used to test some of the engines used in some of North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Melissa Hanham from One Earth Future, who worked with him, said “there’s a huge warehouse and it’s hard to really monitor all the activity going on. But we could see lots of trucks and heavy vehicles in the parking lot going in and out – those trucks are big enough to hold a missile or a rocket.”

When the two leaders met in Hanoi, Mr Trump appears to have demanded an “all or nothing” approach to a denuclearisation deal when Mr Kim has always said he wanted to take this “step by step”. These differences are essentially what led to both sides leaving the negotiating table last month early and with no deal.

Mr Kim may be trying to remind Mr Trump that this approach means North Korea is not yet beholden to any deal.

In his new year speech, always watched closely for those political signals, Mr Kim made what sounded like a threat. He warned that he would seek a “new path” if the US misjudged his patience.

The failure to reach a deal in Hanoi has left both leaders pondering their future. Mr Kim may be showing all the signs of getting ready for a launch, but he may not go ahead with it.

If he does, the future of the Trump-Kim relationship may depend on whether cool heads prevail.

Recommend to friends
  • gplus
  • pinterest