190309 digitalglobe
This satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe, shows Sanumdong research centre on the outskirts of Pyongyang, where the North is believed to be building long-range missiles. Image Credit: AP

Pyongyang: North Korea could be preparing to launch a missile or rocket in the near future, according to satellite images of activity in the country, US radio network NPR reported, while the country’s state media said the world is blaming the US for ending the Hanoi summit without an agreement.

The images were taken on February 22 at the Sanumdong facility near Pyongyang, where North Korea has assembled some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles and satellite-launching rockets, NPR reported. They show trucks and cars parked nearby, while rail cars sit in a yard, where two cranes are erected, it said. The pictures were taken by DigitalGlobe and shared exclusively with NPR.

“When you put all that together, that’s really what it looks like when the North Koreans are in the process of building a rocket,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told NPR. Lewis said it was impossible to know if North Korea is preparing a military missile or a space rocket.

The release of the images comes after Donald Trump abruptly ended a summit with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam late last month after the US president said the North Korean leader asked for all US sanctions to be lifted in exchange for dismantling the country’s main nuclear complex.

‘Feeling Regretful’

The failed talks with Trump raised new questions about Kim’s strategy for coping with the international sanctions squeezing his country. The North Korean leader said his party’s top priority is to improve the economy and livelihood of the people, Korea Central News Agency reported, citing his message to the party workers’ convention, held on March 6 for the first time in 18 years.

“The public at home and abroad that had hoped for success and good results from the second DPRK-US summit in Hanoi are feeling regretful, blaming the US for the summit that ended without an agreement,” KCNA reported, citing a commentary in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

Trump said Wednesday he’d be very disappointed in Kim if reports are accurate that North Korea has begun rebuilding a separate missile test site it dismantled last year. Images from Beyond Parallel, part of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, showed that North Korea was rebuilding a long-range rocket site at the Sohae Launch Facility.

The US is aware of the images but hasn’t drawn the same conclusions as experts, a senior official at the US State Department said March 8.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper has also reported that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers that it detected signs of North Korea restoring part of the Tongchang-ri missile launch site it tore down in July. The comments, made during a briefing at a parliamentary session, also noted that North Korea stopped the operations of a five-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex late last year with no signs of reprocessing activities there.