Speculation mounts over N. Korea's rocket site activity amid stalled denuclearization talks
SEOUL. KAZINFORM - When South Korea's spy agency revealed last month that North Korea had been repairing its long-range rocket site, the widespread assessment was that Pyongyang began the work to get the site ready for dismantlement in anticipation of a deal from February's summit with the United States, Yonhap reports.
But experts have since warned that the communist nation could go ahead and conduct a launch from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, also known as the Dongchang-ri site, as the Hanoi summit between leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump ended without an agreement in an embarrassing blow to Kim.
For now, chances of a launch do not appear to be high, with the North showing no additional moves after completing the repair work, but concerns still persist that the site can be readied for a launch at any time if Kim decides to do so.
Experts say that such a provocation could be possible in that North Korea wants to raise the overall stakes in the currently stalled denuclearization negotiations and force a "make-or-break" deal on the U.S. following the no-deal breakdown of February's summit in Hanoi.
On Tuesday, a local newspaper reported that a missile provocation by the North is looming large.
"The North in effect has completed its repair work on the Dongchang-ri long-range missile test site," the JoongAng Ilbo quoted an anonymous government official in Seoul as saying. "It appears to be ready for a launch only if the top leadership (in North Korea) makes a decision."
The paper earlier reported that the U.S. has deployed a reconnaissance aircraft known as Cobra Ball that specializes in tracking ballistic missiles in Okinawa, Japan, in yet another sign that the North is preparing to launch a missile.
In Washington, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said it is still unclear whether the North's activity at the rocket station is aimed at increasing its negotiating leverage or for a real launch.
"I think this is a part that we need to make a determination on after checking additional information," Jeong told South Korean correspondents in Washington after holding talks with acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
The Dongchang-ri site is the main facility of the country's long-range missile development program. In February 2016, North Korea fired a long-range rocket from there, claiming that it had successfully put a satellite into orbit.