ICBM work continues in Pyongyang, images show

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ICBM work continues in Pyongyang, images show

North Korea appears to be furtively constructing at least one new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) based on activity detected at its Sanum-dong research facility in northern Pyongyang, multiple media outlets reported on Monday and Tuesday, citing U.S. intelligence officials.

The Washington Post released the first report on Monday, saying U.S. spy agencies had detected signs that North Korea was constructing new missiles at the Sanum-dong factory, which produced the country’s first ICBM with a reported range that could reach the U.S. mainland.

Newly obtained evidence, including satellite photos taken in recent weeks, indicates that work is underway on one or two liquid-fueled ICBMs in Sanum-dong, The Washington Post reported, citing officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share classified intelligence.

The report said imagery collected by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency points to ongoing work on at least one Hwasong-15 ICBM at the Sanum-dong plant. When the North tested its powerful Hwasong-15 on Nov. 29 last year, it flew 950 kilometers (590 miles) after peaking at an altitude of 4,475 kilometers. Positioned at a normal angle, South Korean and U.S. authorities believe it could have flown further than 10,000 kilometers, putting the east coast of the United States within reach.

Soon afterward, North Korea claimed it had completed its development of nuclear weapons and hasn’t tested a missile since.

On Tuesday, Reuters also reported that U.S. satellites detected renewed activity at the Sanum-dong facility, citing a senior U.S. official. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that photos and infrared images show vehicles moving in and out of the facility in Sanum-dong but do not indicate how advanced the missile construction might be. One photo shows a truck and covered trailer similar to those that the North has used before to move its ICBMs, the official said, though he could not confirm what the trailer was carrying. The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday further reported that North Korea had constructed two new buildings at Sanum-dong, citing analysis of satellite imagery by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

Officials in Seoul did not immediately deny the reports of North Korea building new ICBMs on Tuesday.

“It is not appropriate for our military to officially confirm foreign reports citing anonymous officials,” a spokesman for the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. “However, our military, through cooperation between South Korea and the United States, closely tracks and monitors trends and activities in key regions in North Korea.”

Likewise, Kim Deuk-hwan, deputy spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a regular news briefing on Tuesday, “Our government, through close cooperation between related South Korea-U.S. authorities, is closely observing the related trends, but it is difficult for us to speak on intelligence matters.”

Since his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June, U.S. President Donald Trump has been boasting of efforts toward Pyongyang’s denuclearization. In a tweet on June 13, one day after the summit, he wrote, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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