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North Korea Expanding Long-Range Rocket Site, Institute Says

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Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) -- North Korea is expanding its long-range rocket launch site, the latest sign Kim Jong Un’s regime is advancing its weapons program in defiance of United Nations sanctions, a U.S. institute said.

Satellite imagery from Oct. 9 indicates that the launch gantry at the Sohae site on the North Korea’s west coast is being upgraded, while a new mobile launchpad may be under construction, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies said in a posting yesterday on its blog, 38 North. A road linking the pad with a missile assembly building and a railhead is also being built, the Washington, D.C.-based institute said.

“There is growing evidence to suggest that the projects under way are related to preparing for future tests of larger space launch vehicles and mobile missiles systems,” 38 North said.

Signs of expansion at the site may further complicate efforts to restart disarmament talks. The report comes weeks after South Korea’s intelligence chief confirmed the North had restarted its main nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. The North has so far refused U.S. and South Korean demands to begin rolling back its weapons program before restarting the talks that offered it aid.

The regime launched a long-range rocket from the Sohae site in December last year to put a satellite into orbit. The U.S. and South Korea called it a test of ballistic missile technology and the UN tightened sanctions against North Korea in January. The North followed with its third nuclear test in February and threats to carry out first strikes against South Korea and the U.S.

The U.S. administration contends the North hasn’t mastered the technology to deliver nuclear bombs on long-range missiles.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Kim in Seoul at skim609@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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