North Korea has moved ahead with its national ballistic missile program with 16 hidden bases identified in the latest commercial satellite imagery, the New York Times reports. This has been long known to American intelligence agencies, but left undiscussed as President Trump claims to have neutralized the North’s nuclear threat.
These images suggest that North Korea has deceived President Trump by offering to dismantle one regional launching site while continuing to make improvements on more than a dozen others. This new discovery contradicts President Trump’s assertion that his trailblazing diplomacy tactics are leading to the elimination of a North Korean nuclear program.
“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.”
There is some truth to this statement; missile flight tests have halted for over a year. However, American intelligence officials have stated that North Korea’s production of new nuclear weapons that can be placed on mobile launches and hidden in mountains at secret bases has continued. As a byproduct of North Korea leveraging a softer relationship with Washington and its stated commitment to eventual denuclearization, the sanctions are beginning to silently collapse and trade between an eased Russia and China has resumed.
A State Department spokesman responded to the findings with a written statement suggesting that the government believed the sites must be dismantled: “President Trump has made clear that should Chairman Kim follow through on his commitments, including complete denuclearization and the elimination of ballistic missile programs, a much brighter future lies ahead for North Korea and its people.”
South Korea had a less optimistic view on the situation, with the office of President Moon Jae-in dismissing a Center for Strategic and International Studies report as containing “nothing new.” He continued, saying that South Korea and American intelligence have known about the North Korean missile bases in greater detail with the help of military spy satellites.
Kim Eui-Kyeom, Mr. Moon’s spokesperson, also lashed out at the characterization of these North Korean missile activities as a “great deception.” He stated, “North Korea has never promised to dismantle its missile bases, nor has it ever joined any treaty that obligates it to dismantle them. So calling this a ‘deception’ is not appropriate.”
The knowledge of these missile sites is one of the many snags in President Trump’s prized diplomatic moves to create a peaceful existence between the U.S. and North Korea. After a series of talks and summits, North Korea has stated that it would not send its chief negotiator to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York, reports the New York Times.
According to Reuters, North Korean media mentioned the canceled meeting for the first time on Saturday, when the Choson Sinbo website reported that the talks could still be productive. This same outlet repeated North Korean warnings that the country could restart its nuclear weapons development if the U.S. does not make more concessions.
The rapprochement between the United States and North Korea has taken hits beyond the discovery of the missile sites. North Korea recently issued a media statement accusing South Korea and the U.S. of violating the recent agreement aimed at lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula by resuming joint, small-scale military drills.
The September 19 agreement signed by North and South Korea called for a halt to “all hostile acts.” However, the state newspaper of North Korea stated that the drills are “directly against the inter-Korean military agreement that promised to eliminate practical threats of war and fundamental hostile relations from the Korean peninsula.”
In another politically tense move, the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier joined Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship in the ocean off Japan. Reuters further reports that this stands as another effort to pressure North Korea.
On a positive note, the Los Angeles Times reports that a South Korean Defense Ministry official has stated that the North and South Korean military completed a withdrawal of troops and firearms from 22 front-line guard posts on Saturday. The two countries continue to implement a wide-ranging agreement reached in September to reduce tensions across the world’s most fortified border.
Critics have stated that this could leave South Korea at risk, because North Korea has not taken any substantial steps towards denuclearization, and that the talks between the U.S. and North Korea are coming closer to stalemate. South Korea says the military agreement is an important trust-building step to help advance reconciliation between the rivals.
In the September military agreement, the two nations pledged to eventually withdraw all guard posts within the demilitarized zone, but to start by removing 11 from each side as a “preliminary” measure, the Los Angeles Times further reports. Both Koreas plan to dismantle 20 military structures by the end of November, while symbolically leaving one demilitarized guard post on each side. Plans to jointly verify the results of this effort will occur in December.