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North Korea dismantles Sohae missile site, in big win for Trump

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North Korea
A
soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket
at a test site in 2012.

REUTERS/Bobby
Yip


  • North Korea has started dismantling rocket launching
    and testing facilities, and it’s a major US victory in what
    have been fraught and slow-moving talks.
  • Kim Jong Un personally promised President Donald Trump
    these sites would get taken down, so this will go a long way
    towards building confidence. 
  • The dismantled sites are key, and not just because
    Trump and Kim talked about them.
  • They represent major friction points that could send
    the US and North Korea spiraling back towards
    war. 
  • However, North Korea still has a very long way to go
    towards denuclearization.
  • Virtually every other area of cooperation with
    Pyongyang has gone poorly, even insultingly, for the
    US. 

North Korea has started dismantling rocket launching and testing
facilities that it agreed to in an off-the-books deal with
President Donald Trump, and it’s a major US victory in what have
been fraught and slow-moving talks.

Following the Singapore Summit between Kim Jong Un and Trump, the
two released a joint statement
that contained weak and vague language around denuclearization,
much to the dismay of North Korea watchers hoping for concrete
action.

But in the press conference after the
summit
, Trump announced two bombshells: The US would halt military drills with
South Korea
, and that North Korea had agreed to dismantle a
missile testing site.

In more than a month since the summit, the US has kept its end of
the verbal agreement, but only on Monday did the West get any
indication that North Korea was holding its.

Satellite imagery reviewed by 38North
shows North Korea dismantling key parts of the Sohae Satellite
Launching Station, where Kim Jong Un has presided over the launch
of rockets meant to put satellites in orbit in the past. 

So far, a rail-based site for transporting the rockets and a
vertical engine testing stand have been dismantled, 38 North
reports.

In absolute terms, this represents only a tiny fraction of North
Korea’s nuclear missile infrastructure. But the action there has
key components that may give cause for hope.

These sites were vital


Kim Jong Un smiles as he visits Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Pyongan province for the testing of a new engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in this undated photo released April 9, 2016. KCNA/via REUTERS
North
Korea leader Kim Jong Un smiles as he visits Sohae Space Center
for the testing of a new engine for an ICBM

Thomson Reuters

North Korea, in past negotiations with the US, have proven
extremely lawyerly and adept at finding loopholes in its
agreements.

In 2012, when Kim had just taken power, the US under Obama
negotiated a freeze on missile testing with North Korea. Later,
North Korea announced it would instead launch a rocket intended
to carry a satellite into orbit.

Satellite launch vehicles are not missiles. They deliver a
satellite into orbit, rather than an explosive payload to a
target.

But both satellite launch vehicles and missiles use rocket
engines to propel themselves into space, meaning that working on
one is much the same as working on the other.

The US, troubled by this obvious betrayal of the spirit of the
agreement, then exited the deal.

By removing the rail infrastructure to set up satellite vehicle
launches, North Korea may have signaled it won’t look to exploit
the same loopholes that have wrecked past deals. 

At Sohae, where cranes have been spotted tearing down an engine
testing stand, the North Koreans have previously worked to
develop engines for their intercontinental ballistic missiles.

ICBMs threaten the US homeland in
a way that could fray US alliances in Asia
and eventually
even unseat the US as a dominant power in the region. As Business
Insider previously reported, freezing North Korea’s ICBM
program has been a key focus of the Pentagon for years
.

Only a small amount of actual work has taken place in dismantling
the sites, but the significance of the sites, and their place in
Trump and Kim’s budding relationship, gives reason for
hope. 

Confidence-building 


trump kim singapore
They’re getting along.
Getty

So far North Korea has dragged its feet even on simple tasks,
like giving back the remains of US
soldiers killed in the Korean War
, despite promising
immediate action. 

Since the Singapore summit, satellite imagery has picked up signs
that North Korea may actually have advanced its
nuclear and missile programs
. When Secretary of State Mike
Pompeo visited North Korea recently, Kim didn’t meet him, and instead
toured a potato farm. 

Kim sent Trump a nice letter in
mid-July
, but it contained no specifics on the US’s declared
goal: Denuclearization.

Trump said he negotiated the closing of these facilities with Kim
after the joint declaration was signed, but North Korea waited
over a month before delivering.

During that time, Trump repeatedly stressed that he believed
North Korea would follow through based on his personal read of
Kim’s personality.

In that way, North Korea has kept its direct promise to Trump and
demonstrated, for perhaps the first time, a real willingness to
scale back the key parts of its missile system that could bring
about a major war with the US. 

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