U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in nuclear talks with the United States, NBC news quoted U.S. officials as saying.
In a report on Friday, the network said what it described as the latest U.S. intelligence assessment appeared to go counter to sentiments expressed by President Donald Trump, who tweeted after an unprecedented June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that ‘there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.’
NBC quoted five unidentified U.S. officials as saying that in recent months North Korea had stepped up production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, even as it engaged in diplomacy with the United States.
The network cited U.S. officials as saying that the intelligence assessment concludes that North Korea has more than one secret nuclear site in addition to its known nuclear fuel production facility at Yongbyon.
Sticking to his word? Despite promising Donald Trump to ‘work toward’ denuclearization at the Singapore summit, US intelligence believes North Korea is ramping up production
Kim Jong Un inspects Unit 1524 of the Korean People’s Army in a picture released yesterday
The North Korean leader inspects a farm in Sindo county in as tensions continue in Korea
Kim Jong Un visits Sindo County, North Phyongan Province, in a picture released yesterday
Kim smiles on the farm he was visiting in Sindo County, North Phyongan Province
‘There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.,’ NBC quoted one official as saying.
The CIA declined to comment on the NBC report.
The State Department said it could not confirm it and did not comment on matters of intelligence. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The NBC report raises further questions about North Korea’s readiness to enter serious negotiations about giving up a weapons program that now threatens the United States, in spite of Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the summit outcome.
NBC quoted one senior U.S. intelligence official as saying that North Korea’s decision ahead of the summit to suspend nuclear and missile tests was unexpected and the fact that the two sides were talking was a positive step.
However, he added ‘Work is ongoing to deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles … We are watching closely.’
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said there were two ‘bombshells’ in the report.
He said it had long been understood that North Korea had at least one undeclared facility to enrich nuclear fuel aside from Yongbyon.
‘This assessment says there is more than one secret site. That means there are at least three, if not more sites,’ he said.
Lewis said the report also implied that U.S. intelligence had reporting to suggest North Korea did not intend to disclose one or more of the enrichment sites.
Washington-based North Korean monitoring project 38 North said recent satellite imagery showed North Korea had made rapid improvements to facilities at Yongbyon since May 6
Cool river A newly in-filled water channel is seen leading up to the new cooling water pump house from the river
The images from 38 North show a new engineering office building, complete with a new concrete driveway, at the Experimental Light Water Reactor, as well as a small blue building nearby with unknown purpose
This satellite image shows increased roof staining at the Uranium Enrichment Plant, indicating that it is kept in operation
Two new buildings have appeared at what is presumed to be a radioisotope production facility, which could be used to store chemicals
‘Together, these two things would imply that North Korea intended to disclose some sites as part of the denuclearization process, while retaining others,’ he said.
North Korea agreed at the summit to ‘work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’ but the joint statement signed by Kim and Trump gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might surrender its nuclear weapons.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week he would likely go back to North Korea before long to try to flesh out commitments made at the Trump-Kim meeting.
On Thursday, the Financial Times quoted U.S. officials as saying that Pompeo plans to travel to North Korea next week, but the State Department has declined to confirm this.
Ahead of the summit, North Korea rejected unilaterally abandoning an arsenal it has called an essential deterrent against U.S. aggression.
Trump said last week North Korea was blowing up four of its big test sites and that a process of ‘total denuclearization … has already started,’ but officials said there had been no such evidence since the summit.
This week, Washington-based North Korean monitoring project 38 North said recent satellite imagery showed North Korea had made rapid improvements to facilities at Yongbyon since May 6, but it could not say if such work had continued after June 12.
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