Despite the Trump-Kim Summit, North Korea Continues to Upgrade Nuclear Facility
North Korea continues to upgrade a major nuclear research facility despite President Donald Trump's claim that leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to disarm, according to new satellite images and a research paper published by a North Korea monitoring group.
Experts at 38 North, a Baltimore-based website devoted to the analysis of North Korea, concluded the images show that "improvements to the infrastructure at North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center are continuing at a rapid pace." The satellite images are from June 21.
That's less than two weeks after Trump boasted of a diplomatic breakthrough with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program after decades of hostility.
Trump and Kim signed a joint declaration at a summit in Singapore on June 12 and pledged to work toward peace and to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. "We’re ready to write a new chapter between our nations," Trump said at a news conference following the summit. He called his meeting with Kim "honest, direct and productive."
The improvements to the Yongbyon facility include modifications to the cooling system of a plutonium production reactor and various support facilities. Uranium enrichment, a key component for civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons, is still taking place, according to 38 North's interpretation of the images.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House to 38 North's analysis.
The Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center is located about 60 miles north of the country's capital Pyongyang and is a core part of its nuclear weapons program.
Still, the monitoring group conceded in its research paper that the ongoing improvements to the Yongbyon facility should not necessarily be seen as having any direct relationship to North Korea’s recent pledge to denuclearize.
"The North’s nuclear cadre can be expected to proceed with business as usual until specific orders are issued from Pyongyang," the authors of the report said.
In an apparent sign of goodwill before the Trump-Kim summit, North Korea in May claimed it demolished a separate nuclear test site at Punggye-Ri, which sits in a sparsely populated mountainous region in the country's northeast.
But the Singapore summit has been criticized for being light on details of any policy changes and producing only an intention to denuclearize.
It did not produce anything on how to get it done. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the U.S. will regularly assess Pyongyang's seriousness toward abandoning its nuclear weapons program but has not committed to a timeline or roadmap.
"North Korea is not obligated to any specific actions as of yet, but (these images) certainly underscore the importance of continuing negotiations, and getting a detailed agreement in place to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program," said Jenny Town, managing editor at 38 North, in emailed comments. "This is the true test of the Trump administration, to now see if they have the will and ability to do the hard work needed to move past lofty goals to practical and sustainable solutions."