- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Trump administration downplayed reports Tuesday that North Korea is engaged in a flurry of new intercontinental ballistic missile activity, asserting the activity has not undermined President Trump’s high-stakes diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang.

Administration officials insisted Tuesday that progress is being made on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s pledge to surrender his nuclear and missile programs, even as a high-level meeting between North and South military leaders on Tuesday failed to make progress on formally ending the decades-old frozen war between the two. Pentagon officials said privately there was “no evidence” to date that the North has halted work on its missile development work.

“Things don’t change overnight,” senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News, adding that reports of U.S. intelligence on continued intercontinental missile development suggests the North Korean negotiation “is a process.”

The State Department said the administration still believes Mr. Kim was sincere in his commitment to move toward abandoning his country’s nuclear weapons when he met in early June with Mr. Trump in Singapore.

“What we’re going on is the commitment that Chairman Kim made to our president,” said department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. “We certainly anticipate that he will hold up his end of the bargain.”

But Ms. Nauert dodged questions about reports that U.S. spy satellite photos and infrared imaging have shown recent movement of vehicles in and out of a North Korean facility that previously produced the country’s first ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a tour of Asian capitals this week, in part to urge countries to keep the sanctions pressure on North Korea in order to push the denuclearization process along.

U.S. officials have for years warned that Pyongyang was developing nuclear warheads small enough to fit atop an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The Washington Post first reported Monday that American intelligence agencies have obtained new imagery showing work underway on at least one and possibly two liquid-fueled ICBMs at a research facility in Sanumdong, on the outskirts of Pyongyang.

Citing anonymous officials familiar with the intelligence, the report said the imagery did not necessarily suggest an expansion of current North Korean ICBM capabilities, but showed work on the weaponry continues, weeks after Mr. Trump declared via Twitter that Pyongyang was “no longer a Nuclear Threat.”

With South Korean President Moon Jae-in a prime proponent of greater contacts with Pyongyang, North and South Korean military officials continue to hold their own talks in pursuit of a thaw in military tensions that have divided the two since the early-1950s Korean War was frozen by an armistice.

Tuesday saw high-level generals from both sides hold a second round of talks since April, when Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon agreed to pursue a formal peace treaty. Tuesday’s meeting ended without a breakthrough, but top delegates from both sides said they had made progress.

The chief South Korean delegate, Maj. Gen. Kim Do Gyun, said the two sides discussed removing some guard posts from the Demilitarized Zone, halting hostile acts along their disputed sea boundary, and conducting joint searches for soldiers missing from the Korean War in border areas.

Supporters of Mr. Trump’s outreach note that Pyongyang has refrained from missile and nuclear tests and shut down a nuclear test site in the wake of the Singapore summit. Satellite photos have also shown the North has begun dismantling key facilities at its main rocket launch site. And private analysts say Mr. Kim and his generals may merely be bulking up their arsenal as much as possible before a formal deal is signed.

But skeptical analysts — wary of North Korea’s history of dragging out past talks while continuing to clandestinely build up its weapons capabilities — say the actions taken so far are not enough to prove that Pyongyang is serious about disarmament.

The notion that North Korea is “building more ICBMs shouldn’t come as a surprise,” said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA official and now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

While Mr. Klingner said such activity “is not per se a violation” of the joint Singapore statement, the new intelligence likely won’t bode well for the future of talks with the North Koreans.

Pyongyang’s actions, “run counter to the spirit of the summit and are inconsistent with a government preparing to abandon its nuclear programs,” Mr. Klingner said an email statement.


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