Satellite evidence reveals restoration works in dismantled North Korean facility

Satellite evidence revealed that North Korea has taken steps to restore a dismantled site used to test ballistic missiles. Images were taken in the aftermath of the collapse of the Hanoi talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Leader Kim Jong Un.

The site refers to the Tongchang-ri Space Centre also known as Sohae Satellite Launching Station. The Sohae Space Centre is located in the westernmost part of North Korea. Until last year, when dismantling operations began at the centre, the venue was exclusively used for satellite launches and jet engine tests. Dismantlement works began in early July and lasted until both sides reached a diplomatic impasse near the beginning of 2019. Today, satellite evidence reveals the reopening of the site, or at least, increased truck traffic in the venue’s periphery. This evidence has been discovered both by European and U.S. military authorities concurrently with testaments from South Korean surveillance operations.

Pyongyang initiated last year dismantlement of the site as a positive gesture, a confidence-building measure to reach to a denuclearisation deal with the U.S. Before its dismantlement, Sohae was an important facility for North Korea’s military and aviation industries. It was extensively used for satellite launches since 2012 but also was a testing ground for jet and missile engines. Today, there is suspicion that for the first time in history, the Sohae Space Centre will also be utilised as a testing ground for ballistic missiles. Western analysts tend to believe that Pyongyang’s reopening of the base may act as a reminder to counterparts that North Korea still possesses the know-how and has the capacity to build nuclear ballistic missiles.

For its part, Washington received with mixed reactions the news about satellite imagery of the Sohae venue. Upon the collapse of Hanoi deliberations, the U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton argued that North Korea might have to cope with additional sanctions in case it does not provide evidence of progress in serving its denuclearisation pledges. The U.S. President Donald Trump made an official statement on the issue expressing his potential disappointment in case intelligence reports become substantiated. Still these findings stem from early reports and there is no concrete evidence that North Korea and Chairman Kim has started re-weaponising the Sohae facility.

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