North Korea is moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images, a network long known to American intelligence agencies but left undiscussed as President Trump claims to have neutralized the North’s nuclear threat.
The satellite images suggest that the North has been engaged in a great deception: It has offered to dismantle a major launching site — a step it began, then halted — while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads.
The existence of the ballistic missile bases, which North Korea has never acknowledged, contradicts Mr. Trump’s assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination of a nuclear and missile program that the North had warned could devastate the United States.
“We are in no rush,” Mr. Trump said of talks with the North at a news conference on Wednesday, after Republicans lost control of the House. “The sanctions are on. The missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped. The hostages are home.”
His statement was true in just one sense. Mr. Trump appeared to be referring to the halt of missile flight tests, which have not occurred in nearly a year. But American intelligence officials say that the North’s production of nuclear material, of new nuclear weapons and of missiles that can be placed on mobile launchers and hidden in mountains at the secret bases has continued.
And the sanctions are collapsing, in part because North Korea has leveraged its new, softer-sounding relationship with Washington, and its stated commitment to eventual denuclearization, to resume trade with Russia and China. [Continue reading…]
Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies nuclear proliferation, told CNN that Kim’s actions do not amount to “deception since he said on New Year’s Day that North Korea would mass-produce and deploy its missiles that it already tested.”
Narang added that the images released Monday identify “operating bases which, until and unless there is a deal, Kim can’t eliminate without undermining his security.”
Asked about the State Department’s response to Monday’s report, Narang called the assertion that North Korea has committed to eliminating its ballistic missile programs is “misleading.”
“There has been no agreement or discussion remotely that detailed — even on nuclear systems, and many of these are short range conventional missiles which North Korea has never said were on the table,” he told CNN.
Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told CNN that experts have known about these sites for years, and it is no surprise that they remain operational given Kim’s declaration in January that North Korea would shift from research and development to the mass-production of nuclear systems.
“Kim didn’t dupe Trump. Trump duped himself,” Lewis said, noting that North Korea has never offered to unilaterally disarm. [Continue reading…]