North Korean missile bases outed in report that undermines Trump

The facilities are located in strategic locations that would put missiles in range of S. Korea and Japan

by BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON • Thirteen undeclared North Korean missile operating bases were identified in a new report, undermining the Trump administration’s claims that its outreach to Pyongyang is making progress in getting Kim Jong-un’s regime to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

The 13 sites are among an estimated 20 bases, small and dispersed across the country, that are believed to have underground facilities containing mobile launchers that can be quickly dispersed to other locations, according to the report from Beyond Parallel, a group at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. Although not designed as launch sites, the bases could be used to launch short-range as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“The dispersed nature, small size of operating bases, and tactics and doctrine employed by ballistic missile units provide the best chances for their survival given the KPA’s technology and capabilities,” according to the report, using an acronym for the Korean People’s Army.

The existence of the bases — which presumably would have to be declared and then dismantled under the US goal of North Korean “denuclearisation” — suggests that Pyongyang’s previous efforts to dismantle known missile launch sites or nuclear facilities had little impact on its nuclear programme.

The report comes as talks between the US and North Korea hit another snag last week, with a New York meeting between Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and the top negotiator from Pyongyang cancelled at the last minute.

US President Donald Trump — who’s cited North Korea’s yearlong freeze on nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile launches as signs of progress — chalked up the change to a scheduling conflict, adding: “We think it’s going fine, we’re in no rush.”

Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that Trump was “getting played by Kim”.

“We cannot have another summit with North Korea — not with Trump, not with the secretary of state — unless and until the Kim regime takes concrete, tangible actions to halt and roll back its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes,” Markey said in a statement on Monday. US and South Korea officials played down the report’s findings, suggesting intelligence agencies were aware of the facilities.

“I don’t comment on matters that may or not pertain to intelligence,” US National Security Advisor John Bolton told reporters yesterday on the sidelines of regional summits in Singapore. “Obviously, we’re very well aware of what’s going on in North Korea.”

A spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in told reporters and describes the CSIS report as “nothing new”, adding that describing North Korea’s missile activities as deceptive risked hindering diplomacy. The spokesman, Kim Eui-keum, said that Pyongyang had never agreed to shut down its short-range missile bases.

While the administration seeks to continue its “maximum pressure” campaign against Kim’s regime, momentum is building to ease international sanctions put in place last year, a move the US is struggling to resist.

Last Thursday, Russia called a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to take up its request for humanitarian exemptions to international sanctions on Pyongyang. The US said it would vet Russia’s list, but administration officials have previously said Moscow is already violating the restrictions.

The facilities identified in the new report are located in strategic locations that would put missiles in range of South Korea and Japan, according to the report. Some are likely to house missiles that could reach the continental US when they become deployed. For decades, the bases have been camouflaged to prevent destruction from preemptive strikes and during military operations.

The report singled out a base known as Sakkanmol, about 50 miles (80km) north of the demilitarised zone and one of the closest to South Korea. The base, located in mountainous terrain, contains a unit equipped with short-range ballistic missiles, the report said, and could house medium-range ones. As of this month, “the base is active and being reasonably well-maintained by North Korean standards” with minor infrastructure changes.

Meanwhile, Bolton said Trump is still interested in meeting Kim again. “We have indicated to the North Koreans that the president is prepared to have a second summit with Kim after the first year,” Bolton said. — Bloomberg