North Korea Seen Reassembling Rocket Test Site
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
What do new satellite photos over North Korea really mean? The images show construction on a North Korean missile testing site. It's a site where North Korea dismantled some structures last year, seemingly at the request of President Trump, who spoke of closing a test site.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They secured the commitment to destroy the missile engine testing site. That was not in your agreement. I got that after we signed the agreement. I said, do me a favor. You've got this missile engine testing site. We know where it is because of the heat. We - it's incredible the equipment we have, to be honest with you. I said, can you close it up? You're going to close it up.
INSKEEP: That was then. This is now - seems that some structures have been rebuilt. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel is in our studios and covering the story. Hi there, Geoff.
GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Missile testing site - what is it exactly?
BRUMFIEL: So this site is known as Sohae, or sometimes it's called Dongchang-ri or Tongchang-ri. And this is actually a site where they tested long-range rockets, specifically the space rockets they used to launch a few satellites a few years back. So this is really a test site for some of their largest rockets. Their missiles actually have been tested elsewhere. But there is a test stand on the site where they're believed to have tested some of the missile engines. They sort of bolt them in and fire them into the ground to make sure they're working.
INSKEEP: So that is what they dismantled last summer after President Trump said they would, and this is what is now being rebuilt. How significant is this reconstruction?
BRUMFIEL: Right. So that clip we heard at the top was from Trump's first summit with Kim in Singapore - Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea. And after that summit, Kim apparently started to take apart parts of the Sohae site. So they dismantled part of a building they used for transferring their rockets from the sort of test bed assembly area into the launch pad. And they also dismantled the engine test stand, that place where they would bolt down these engines and test them. It appears now that they've remantled (ph) - is that a word? - put it back together.
INSKEEP: Sounds good to me.
BRUMFIEL: And they've done it in a matter of days sometime between late February and just the first couple of days of March. It's unclear whether they started this before or after the second summit, which we just had. But they - they've put everything back together again.
INSKEEP: Good to note that we don't know the exact timeline. But sometime in the same area as this summit between Trump and Kim that fell apart and ended with no agreement, they've been building things back up. The next question, then, is, how significant is this, because people will be wondering if this is North Korea saying, OK. Diplomacy didn't work. We're going to ramp back up again.
BRUMFIEL: Right. And I think it's really important to understand that this site has always been a little bit tangential to the missile program. When North Korea was launching those long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that they tested in 2017, they actually did that from elsewhere. They did not use the site. This site's more of a testing site. And it's symbolic. Its value is largely symbolic. So I think this is really - if it is anything at all, it's sending a message about where North Korea might go in the wake of the summit, but it's not necessarily going to change the technical capabilities of the North.
INSKEEP: Geoff, thanks for the insights - really appreciate it.
BRUMFIEL: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Geoff Brumfiel.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.