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Yet Another Victor Cha's Attempt to Stall US-DPRK Talks, or was it John Bolton's?

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Not long ago, we examined two attempts which were made by Victor Cha—failed US Ambassador to South Korea and one of the most odious foreign policy hawks—to disrupt the North Korea–United States Summit. First, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where Cha is responsible for South Korea, tried to claim a well-known military facility was actually a hidden military base, alleging Kim Jong-un had breached the terms of an agreement which he had never signed. Even Cha’s colleagues from 38 North said that his second report about another missile base was regrettable.

But the anti-Pyongyang campaigner refuses to throw in his towel, and Cha’s office recently submitted its third report. This time the report claimed that Pyongyang is secretly restoring the missile launch pad of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station (also known as Tongch’ang-dong Space Launch Center) in the West of the country, which Pyongyang promised to dismantle at the first North Korea–United States Summit in Singapore, and the report claimed this was a message from the North’s Dear Leader to Donald Trump about the futility of a second summit in Hanoi and served as an example of how quickly Kim can cancel out earlier steps taken towards denuclearization.

Let’s not forget that the work was carried out to dismantle the Sohae Satellite Launching Station and the rocket engine test stand between July and August last year before it all ground to a halt.

The NBC News Channel reported that representatives of the CSIS-sponsored analytical center Beyond Parallel said that analysis of satellite images indicates that there has been “obvious activity to rebuild the vertical engine and rail-mounted transfer/processing structure on the launch pad.”

Also in an interview with NBC News, Victor Cha gave his own clarification, saying that “the activity they are undertaking now [at the missile test site] is consistent with preparations for a test, though the imagery thus far does not show a missile being moved to the launch pad.” Thus, North Korea allegedly has a plan to flaunt determination in the face of the United State’s refusal to meet its demands to ease sanctions, by hyping up yet another missile launch.

We can avoid getting bogged down in the nature of the debates which ensued about treacherous Kim, gullible Trump and the need for applying maximum pressure—what we would really like to know is what evidence backs this all up.

The South Korean Yonhap News Agency reports (citing officials who received the latest report on 5 March from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service) that site repairs included the replacement of the roof and a door at the facility. An anonymous government source in Seoul also said that there is no sign that would suggest the rail structure is being rebuilt to connect the rocket processing building and the launch pad. There are signs that ancillary buildings are being restored.

Experts from the research group 38 North did not make any far-reaching conclusions: restoration work at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station was carried out somewhere between 16 February and 2 March. There were two cranes on the launch pad and some buildings had new walls and a repaired roof. On 7 March, 38 North provided additional satellite images which showed that the crane which had been visible in image from 2 March had since been dismantled. Materials that had been stacked on the pad were removed, and a few cars were visible near the gantry tower. Signs of a new truss being installed and restoration of the upper structure were identified on the test site. From what we can see, we are not looking at what Victor Cha sees as the restoration of important mechanisms of the test site and launch pad.

Other experts also believe that it is too early to jump to the conclusion that signs of restoration at Sohae indicate Pyongyang’s intention to suspend talks with Washington. On 7 March, Former US Ambassador to Kazakhstan Alexander Vershbow took part in a debate organized by CSIS, where he said that it is not yet clear how serious the situation is and whether the activity at the site has been an expression of North Korea’s disappointment with the results of the summit in Hanoi. According to Vershbow, there is no sign that Pyongyang is trying to undermine the negotiation process, and it is too early to draw any conclusions. Leading specialist Sue Mi Terry from the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees with this point. In her opinion, North Korea is not reverting back to a provocative policy.

When asked to comment, White House Press........

© New Eastern Outlook