South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo says there is still no sign that North Korea is preparing for an imminent missile launch as reported by US media outlets.
Earlier this month, US news outlets cited reports by several American think-tanks and South Korean officials, warning that satellite images showed that North Korea was possibly making preparations for a missile or space launch from the Sohae rocket launch site in Tongchang-ri.
South Korea’s defense chief told a parliamentary hearing on Monday that it was too soon to tell if recent activity at some of North Korea’s rocket facilities was preparation for a launch.
“It’s hasty to call it missile-related activity,” Jeong said. “Tongchang-ri is a launch site but we don’t see any activity being carried out for a missile launch.”
Asked if he could confirm whether Sohae was functionally restored, he said it was inappropriate for intelligence authorities to comment on every media report.
He confirmed, without elaborating, that there were indications of continued nuclear activity in North Korea.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a separate parliamentary panel that it was possible that the recent activity at the missile site was to bolster North Korea’s leverage in negotiations.
“But given North Korea’s continued work, thorough analysis is needed to find out its exact intentions,” Cho added.
North Korea, on Friday, said that its leader Kim Jong-un was considering suspending denuclearization talks with the United States.
The North’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui told reporters that Kim may rethink a freeze on missile and nuclear tests unless the United States made concessions.
At a summit with the South’s President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed last year to shutter the Sohae site.
In August last year, satellite pictures suggested workers were dismantling an engine test stand at the facility.
However, the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies suggested last week that rebuilding was progressing quickly at the facility.
It said work at the site had started before last month’s failed meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump on denuclearization in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Trump blamed the breakdown of the talks on Kim, saying he was not ready to make the necessary concessions, and that the North Korean leader had asked for the removal of all the sanctions against his country.
Pyongyang later rejected the claims, saying Kim never put forward such a request.
The two leaders had first met in June 2018 in Singapore, where they agreed to work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang has taken several steps toward the goal by suspending missile and nuclear testing; however, the US has insisted that sanctions on the North must remain in place until it completely and irreversibly dismantles its nuclear program.