North Korea ‘continues its nuclear research activities’

Nuclear monitoring website, 38 North, says Pyongyang continues ‘improvements to the infrastructure’ at Yongbyon.

Yongbyon - Korea
A TV screen shows file footage of the demolition of a cooling tower at North Korea's main reactor complex in Yongbyon in 2008 [File: AP]

North Korea continues to carry out rapid improvements to its nuclear research facility, a nuclear monitor said on Wednesday, despite declaring a commitment to denuclearisation of the peninsula at the Singapore summit.

The nuclear-armed North’s leader Kim Jong-un had promised to “work toward” the goal at a landmark summit in the city-state earlier this month with US President Donald Trump.

But the Singapore meeting failed to clearly define denuclearisation, or produce a specific timeline towards dismantling North Korea’s atomic weapons arsenal.

Trump claimed the process would start quickly, saying last week that “It will be a total denuclearisation, which is already taking place.”

But recent satellite imagery showed that not only were operations continuing at present at the North’s main Yongbyon nuclear site, it was also carrying out infrastructure works, said the respected 38 North website.

“Commercial satellite imagery from June 21 indicates that improvements to the infrastructure at … Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center are continuing at a rapid pace,” it said.

It noted “continued operations” at the North’s uranium enrichment plant and several new installations at the site – including an engineering office and a driveway to a building housing a nuclear reactor.

But continued operations at the site “should not be seen as having any relationship with North Korea’s pledge to denuclearise”, it added.

No denuclearisation timeframe

Nuclear officials could be “expected to proceed with business as usual until specific orders are issued from Pyongyang”, it said.

Last month, North Korea demolished its aged but only nuclear test site at Punggye-ri – where it had staged six atomic tests – in a show of goodwill before the summit.

But Pyongyang has kept its counsel on the denuclearisation issue since the meeting, although state media have dialled down propaganda against the US, long dubbed the “imperialist enemy.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been pushing for more follow-up talks to flesh out details over denuclearisation but no date has been set for when they would take place.

The latest development comes as US Secretary of Defense James Mattis met on Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, where the denuclearisation issue in North Korea was expected to top the agenda.

Trump’s announcement of a suspension of major annual military exercises with South Korea fulfilled a longtime Chinese wish.

Xi, who also heads the commission overseeing the People’s Liberation Army – called relations between the two militaries a “model component of our overall bilateral relations.”

Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, said the US assigns the same degree of importance to the relationship.

Source: News Agencies