North Korea appears to have begun dismantling a rocket launch site after promising to destroy the facility following an unprecedented US summit.
Satellite images of the Sohae station seen by a US-based monitoring group suggest Pyongyang is complying with the promise which the state’s leader made to Donald Trump at their meeting in June.
The group, 38 North, said the pictures taken on July 20 showed work at the launching station to dismantle a rocket engine test stand used to develop liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles.
“Since these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence-building measure on the part of North Korea,” it said in a report on Monday.
Mr Trump told a news conference after his June 12 summit with the North Korean leader that Kim Jong-un had promised a major missile engine testing site would be destroyed “very soon”.
He did not identify the site in his address but a US official told Reuters news agency that he was referring to Sohae.
The 38 North report comes amid growing questions about North Korea’s willingness to live up to the commitments Kim made at the summit, particularly to work towards denuclearisation.
US officials have repeatedly said North Korea has committed to giving up a nuclear weapons program, but Pyongyang has offered no details as to how it might go about this.
Jenny Town, managing editor of 38 North, which is based at Washington’s Stimson Center, said the work at Sohae could be an important move to keep negotiations going.
“This could… mean that North Korea is also willing to forgo satellite launches for the time being as well as nuclear and missile tests.
“This distinction has derailed diplomacy in the past,” she said.
On Friday, senior US officials called on Kim to act on his promise to give up his nuclear weapons and said the world, including China and Russia, must continue to enforce sanctions on Pyongyang until he does so.
On Monday, the US State Department issued an advisory together with the departments of Treasury and Homeland Security alerting businesses to North Korea’s sanctions-evasion tactics.
It said they should “implement effective due diligence policies, procedures, and internal controls to ensure compliance with applicable legal requirements across their entire supply chains.”
In a tweet earlier on Monday, Mr Trump rejected “Fake News” that he was angry because progress was not happening fast enough with North Korea.
“Wrong, very happy!” he said in the Tweet.
“A Rocket has not been launched by North Korea in 9 months. Likewise, no Nuclear Tests. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy,” he said.
A report in The Washington Post at the weekend said that in spite of positive assessments Mr Trump has given on progress with North Korea, he has vented anger at aides over a lack of immediate progress.
Last week, Trump said there was “no rush” and “no time limit” on denuclearisation negotiations.
US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said on Thursday it was technically possible for North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons program within a year, but added that it was not likely to happen.