North Korea maintains unreported missile bases operational: US think tank

SEOUL (Reuters) – A US think tank announced on Monday that it has identified at least 13 of the 20 bases of undeclared missile operations in North Korea, highlighting the challenge facing US negotiators in the hope to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons and long-range weapons. missiles.

In reports published by the Washington, DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, researcher Joseph Bermudez said minor maintenance and infrastructure improvements have been observed at some of the sites, despite ongoing negotiations.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump pledged to work towards denuclearization at their historic summit in June in Singapore, but the deal has not been realized. negotiations have made little progress.

Shortly after this summit, Trump tweeted that there is "no more nuclear threat from North Korea".

North Korea has declared its nuclear force "complete" and halted the testing of missiles and nuclear bombs earlier this year, but US and South Korean negotiators still have to get a concrete statement of the magnitude from Pyongyang. or the scope of weapons programs, or a promise to stop deploying its existing arsenal.

North Korea has announced the closure of its Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the Sohae missile engine test facility. He also mentioned the possibility of closing more sites and permitting international inspections if Washington took "corresponding measures", of which there was so far no sign.

Asked whether these hidden sites were contrary to the spirit of the summit and whether North Korea should abandon them, a State Department official said that "if President Kim were to hold his commitments, including the complete denuclearization and elimination of ballistic missile programs – a much brighter future for North Korea and its inhabitants. "

Last week, North Korea canceled a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York, and the official media announced Monday that the resumption of some small-scale military exercises led by South Korea and the United States violated a recent agreement to reduce tensions. on the Korean peninsula.

The sites identified in the CSIS report are scattered in remote mountainous areas of North Korea and could be used to host ballistic missiles of various ranges, the largest of which can be used anywhere in the United States.

"The bases of missile operations are not launch facilities," wrote Bermudez. "Although missiles can be launched from the inside in case of emergency, the Korean People 's Army (KPA)' s operational procedures require missile launchers to disperse bases to airfields. launch pre-supervised or semi-prepared for operations. "

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North Korea has not recognized any of the missile bases, and analysts believe that an accurate disclosure of nuclear weapons and their capabilities would be an important part of any denuclearization agreement.

Sakkanmol, the closest site to the border with South Korea and its capital Seoul, appears to be "active and reasonably well maintained," according to the report.

"The decommissioning of the Sohae satellite launch base by North Korea, while attracting media attention, masks the military threat to the US and South Korean forces from this base and to the United States. other undeclared ballistic missile bases, "said Bermudez.

Report by Josh Smith in Seoul, additional report by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; edited by Darren Schuettler and James Dalgleish

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