N. Korea rocket site work an ‘affront’ to U.S.

Airbus Defence & Space and 38 North via AP

This image provided by Airbus Defence & Space and 38 North via a satellite image from CNES that was captured on March 6 shows the Sohae Satellite Launch Facility in Tongchang-ri, North Korea.

AFP-JijiWASHINGTON (AFP-Jiji) — A North Korean long-range rocket launch site appears to have resumed “normal operation status,” U.S. experts said Thursday, calling it an “affront” to U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy of diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang.

The specialized website 38 North and the Center for Strategic and International Studies used commercial satellite imagery to track construction at the site — which they said began before last week’s aborted summit in Hanoi between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Images taken on March 6 showed that a rail-mounted structure to transfer rockets to the launching pad appeared to have been completed and “may now be operational.”

Cranes have been removed from the pad, while progress also appeared to have been made on rebuilding the support structure for a rocket engine testing stand.

“Given that construction, plus activity at other areas of the site, Sohae [Satellite Launching Station] appears to have returned to normal operational status,” 38 North’s report said.

Denuclearization ‘achievable’ by 2021

WASHINGTON (AFP-Jiji) — The United States still believes “final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea is possible by the end of President Donald Trump’s “first term” in 2021, despite the collapse of the latest summit with Kim Jong Un, a senior official said Thursday.

The official also confirmed that Washington would seek from Pyongyang “clarifications on the purposes” of rebuilding a long-range rocket launch site, adding so far the United States has not reached “any specific conclusion about what’s happening there.”

The official, who requested anonymity, recalled the president’s statement that he would be “very, very disappointed” if reports of activity at the site were true.

“We’re watching in real time as you are the developments at Sohae,” he explained, adding: “We don’t know why they are taking these steps.”

In Hanoi, late last month, the U.S. president and Kim — meeting for the second time — failed to make progress or even arrive at a joint statement.

Nonetheless, “we still believe this is all achievable within the president’s first term,” according to the official. Trump’s current term will end in January 2021.

“We have sufficient time,” he said, without mentioning a deadline for reaching an agreement so the goal could be met. It is not clear if the United States has had contact with North Korea since the Hanoi summit.

New joint drills slammed

SEOUL (AFP-Jiji) — North Korea on Thursday attacked ongoing joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington as an “open challenge” to moves toward peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The United States and South Korea agreed on Sunday to replace two major war games that take place every spring — the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills — with a shorter “Dong Maeng” or “Alliance” exercise which kicked off this week.

But the North’s official KCNA news agency has now warned that the ongoing nine-day drills were an “open challenge” against efforts for peace and stability.

“The ill-boding moves of the South Korean military authorities and the United Sates are a wanton violation of the DPRK-U.S. joint statement and the north-south declarations in which the removal of hostility and tensions were committed to,” it said, using the acronym for the North’s official name.Speech

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