North Korea denied planning a nuclear weapons test while a report indicated it’s upgrading a rocket launch site, conflicting signs that underscore the challenge of gauging the intentions of new leader Kim Jong Un.
The totalitarian regime is building a new launch pad for firing larger long-range rockets at its Musudan-ri site in the northeast, according to a U.S. university monitoring project on North Korea. The report came after North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said last month’s botched long-range rocket launch was intended “for peaceful purposes and we never anticipated military measures like a nuclear test.”
Kim has shown no sign of abandoning his country’s nuclear ambitions five months after succeeding his late father Kim Jong Il. U.S. and South Korean officials have said Kim’s government may soon detonate an atomic weapon to rebound from the embarrassment of the failed rocket launch.
“With these preparations, North Korea is just trying to show that it has power but won’t use it right now,” said Paik Hak Soon, senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute in Seoul. “The only way to be effective is to maintain a believable appearance of power without exercising it.”
Construction at Musudan-ri began last summer and is in its “early stages,” the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington said on its website, citing satellite images taken April 29. The new facility resembles a recently completed Iranian missile center, hinting at a possible connection with Tehran, the report said.
The U.S. must end its “hostile policy,” otherwise North Korea will “expand and bolster” its nuclear program, the spokesman said, according to yesterday’s KCNA report. South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung Jae said the statement left the North’s intentions unclear.
“Until now North Korea’s words and actions have differed, so we take note of yesterday’s statement and will monitor to see how things progress from here,” Cho said.
In Beijing, Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea policy, yesterday said he was “at a bit of a loss to imagine what they’re referring to when they talk about hostile policies.”
Davies, who spoke to reporters after meeting officials including his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei, said he raised the issue of sanctions on North Korea and “the importance of reinforcing them and taking them very seriously.’
The regime has also resumed building a light-water reactor at Yongbyon, its main nuclear enrichment facility about 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of the capital Pyongyang, Hardy said, citing aerial imagery published in early April. Such a reactor could supply fissile material for atomic weapons.
Satellite imagery from April 30 shows that the government is close to completing a containment building for a new experimental light water reactor, according to a separate report from the Johns Hopkins’ website.
Davies, who flies to Tokyo today, said May 21 in Seoul after meeting his South Korean and Japanese counterparts that the totalitarian government would face a ‘‘swift” response to further nuclear or missile tests.
North Korea on April 13 launched a long-range rocket that it said would put a satellite into orbit. The projectile disintegrated minutes after liftoff.
“That was a miscalculation on their part,” Davies said in Beijing yesterday. “They missed an opportunity to demonstrate their seriousness of purpose.”
North Korea fired rockets from the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground at Musudan-ri ahead of underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. Last month’s long-range rocket was launched from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on the northwestern coast.