‘North Korea rapidly improving nuclear research site’


A US-based monitoring group says North Korea is carrying out rapid improvements to a nuclear research facility.

The group, 38 North, said in an analysis on Wednesday that infrastructure improvements at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center were “continuing at a rapid pace.”

The improvements, according to satellite images taken on June 21, include the construction of a new cooling water pump house and the completion of a cooling water reservoir. At least two new non-industrial buildings have been built on the site as well.

The monitor did not clarify if the reactor at the site was still in operation but said that the North Korean nuclear officials were expected to proceed with “business as usual” until leader Kim Jong-un orders official changes to procedure.

Furthermore, it said that “continued work at the Yongbyon facility should not be seen as having any relationship to North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize.”

The development comes just weeks after Kim held a historic summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore. At the end of that summit, Trump and Kim signed a brief, broadly-worded document according to which both sides committed to working “towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

North Korea did not pledge to unilaterally denuclearize. And the US and international sanctions imposed on the North remain in place despite the summit.

The document signed by Kim and Trump also did not offer a specific timeline for dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal.

Though senior American officials said there was still much work to be done for “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization — the Trump White House’s demand — the US president took to Twitter immediately after arriving in Washington from Singapore, saying, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Only one week later, he said North Korea was “destroying their engine site. They’re blowing it up. They’ve already blown up one of their big test sites; in fact it’s actually four of their big test sites.”

Citing US officials, however, The Washington Post wrote at the time that there had been no evidence of new moves to dismantle any nuclear site since Trump sat down with Kim in Singapore on June 12.

38 North also said in an analysis back then that there had been no sign of any activity toward the dismantling of any missile test site in North Korea.

Before the Singapore summit, North Korea suspended its nuclear and missile tests but rejected denuclearization at one stage, a demand that Washington had initially made but later backed away from.

Follow-on negotiations continue between the US and North Korea on the matter, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that he was putting no timeline on the negotiations.

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