Drop in North Korean Fuel Prices Suggests Sanctions Violations

Saul Bowman
July 25, 2018

The think tank 38 North has obtained satellite images that they say show North Korea has begun dismantling key facilities at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, which is used to develop engines for ballistic missiles.

An analysis of the commercial satellite imagery captured between July 20 and July 22 shows that North Korea has started disassembling parts of its main satellite launch station - a site that is believed to have played an important role in the development of Pyongyang's intercontinental ballistic missile program.

North Korea has begun dismantling a key facility used for missile testing, an analysis of new satellite imagery reveals.

Both Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, have been urging patience since the President held a historic summit with Kim in Singapore last month but the President has privately expressed frustration over the perceived lack of progress in talks, a USA official told CNN.

"Considerable progress has been made in dismantling the rail-mounted processing/transfer structure".

But some experts urged caution and one United States defense official played down the news, saying the Sohae site was not a priority in terms of monitoring the North's denuclearization efforts.

"We've been pressing for there to be inspectors on the ground when that engine test facility is dismantled, consistent with Chairman Kim's commitment", said Pompeo, who attended the Singapore summit and has visited North Korea three times this year.

In one set of images, it appears that a rail-mounted processing building is being dismantled.

Kim Jong Un inspects the jet test of a newly-developed high-thrust engine at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station
Image Kim Jong Un inspects the jet test of a newly-developed high-thrust engine at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station

After the summit, Trump had declared the North Korean nuclear threat was effectively over, but some USA media reports suggest he has been privately furious at the pace of subsequent progress on the denuclearization issue. Bermudez notes that in the images from July 22, the test stand appears to have been "completely dismantled", adding that "given the state of activity, work is likely to have begun sometime within the past two weeks".

The Trump administration has maintained optimism about the diplomatic process aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program, insisting there's "no rush" to reach a final deal.

But while the dismantlement of Sohae gives Trump some breathing room after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's uneventful talks recently in Pyongyang, Carnegie's Schoff was wary of the North using the move to push for a peace regime.

Just last week, President Trump said he was "very happy" with how talks were progressing with North Korea.

At the conclusion of that meeting, Trump said Kim committed to a major missile engine test site.

"The U.S. side never mentioned the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean peninsula which is essential for defusing tension and preventing a war", the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in early July. "If that hasn't happened yet, then we are not making the kind of progress we should be making".

"North Korea does not need the Sohae engine test stand anymore if it is confident in the engine design", she wrote on Twitter.

"Now North Korea and the USA have started to have talks", she said.

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