President Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong-un didn’t go very well. After months of touting the “friendship,” “love” and “special bond” he shares with the dictator, Trump “walked” from negotiations in Hanoi last week without any sort of agreement. Two days later, satellite imagery revealed that North Korea has been rebuilding one of its long-range rocket sites.
“This renewed activity, taken just two days after the inconclusive Hanoi Summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, may indicate North Korean plans to demonstrate resolve in the face of U.S. rejection of North Korea’s demands at the summit to lift five U.N. Security Council sanctions enacted in 2016-2017,” said analysts at Beyond Parallel in a report published Tuesday. According to 38 North, the “rapid” rebuild of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station began sometime between February 16th and March 2nd. Trump’s summit with Kim in Hanoi unraveled on February 28th.
North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station (Tongchang-ri): Rebuilding commences on launch pad and engine test stand https://t.co/AoJY3kRyoF
— 38 North (@38NorthNK) March 6, 2019
The Sohae Satellite Launching Station is known primarily as a space launch center. Following Trump’s initial summit with Kim in Sinapore last June, North Korea began to dismantle the site, but according to 38 North those efforts ceased around August 2018. Rebuilding the station could be a sign that North Korea plans to resume its testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which use technology similar to that of the satellites that have been launched from the station in the past. The president has cited North Korea’s lack of recent ICBM testing as a key concession resulting from his rosy relationship with Kim. According to Trump, Kim promised in Hanoi not to resume nuclear or missile testing.
Though the U.S. has called North Korea’s space program a cover for testing technology that could be used to launch ICBMs, there’s no concrete evidence the rebuild has anything to do with missiles.
2/ Aside from the fact that #DPRK has never tested an ICBM from Sohae—it's a space launch vehicle launch site—preparation for any launch would require a wide range of activities not observed in the imagery.
— Joel Wit (@Joel_Wit38) March 6, 2019
According to the New York Times, National Intelligence Service officials speaking to lawmakers at South Korea’s National Assembly on Tuesday said that new construction at Sohae began before Trump met with Kim at Hanoi and that it could have been part of an effort to make dismantling the site “more dramatic” were the two leaders to have reached an agreement.
Regardless of North Korea’s intentions, the new construction at Sohae is only the latest sign not only that North Korea never intended to denuclearize — as National Intelligence Director Dan Coats explained last month — but also that it has been consistently bolstering its nuclear capabilities since Trump and Kim met in Singapore last June. Those talks ended amicably. The summit last week did not, with negotiations breaking down over North Korea’s demand for sanctions to be lifted. Now, the Trump administration is saying pressure may be heightened. “If they’re not willing to [denuclearize], then I think President Trump has been very clear,” National Security Adviser John Bolton said on the Fox Business Channel after the summit fell apart. “They’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them, and we’ll look at ramping those sanctions up, in fact.”
It doesn’t look like North Korea is going to stop at Sohae.