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US Identifies North Korean Missile Test Area

A demonstration of a new rocket engine for the geo-stationary satellite at the Sohae Space Center n this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 20, 2016. KCNA via REUTERS.
US Identifies North Korean Missile Test Area
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The United States has identified the test site that President Donald Trump said North Korea promised to destroy.

A U.S. official said the site is the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in the western part of the country. The official described it is as a major center that has been used for testing engines for long-distance missiles.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met June 12 in Singapore. Trump told reporters after the two met that Kim had agreed to destroy one of his missile centers. At the time, however, the president did not name the site.

The U.S. official told the Reuters news agency, “Chairman Kim promised that North Korea would destroy a missile engine test stand soon.” Reuters agreed not to identify the official.

The U.S. official also said: “The United States will continue to monitor this site closely as we move forward in our negotiations.”

North Korea has not publicly confirmed that Kim made such a promise.

CBS News was the first to identify the exact site. It is the newest of North Korea’s known major missile testing centers.

Trump has praised the Singapore meeting as a success. However, critics have questioned whether he gained anything. They say North Korea did not seem to make any clear new promises in a joint written declaration.

North Korea has rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament.

The U.S.-based North Korea monitoring group 38 North reported Friday that there had been no sign of any activity toward destroying Sohae or any other missile test site.

Little-known site

Little is known about the Sohae site, located in Tongchang-ri. What is know has been pieced together from experts’ reports and the North Korean state news agency KCNA.

Sohae Satellite Launching Station is seen in Sohae, North Korea, in this satellite image taken September 17, 2016 released by 38 North. 38 North/Handout via Reuters.
Sohae Satellite Launching Station is seen in Sohae, North Korea, in this satellite image taken September 17, 2016 released by 38 North. 38 North/Handout via Reuters.

It was reportedly established 2008 with research centers nearby for missile development. It also reportedly has a structure that can support ballistic missiles. The site is mainly used to test large engines built for long-distance missiles.

Jenny Town is a research analyst with 38 North. She said North Korea has spent considerable effort and resources to develop it as a “civilian space program” center. She said the country denies the center has a military use.

Town said, “If North Korea does destroy the Sohae facility, they are also signaling that they are willing to stop satellite/rocket launches this time around as well.” She added that this issue has hurt negotiations in the past.

North Korea has other missile testing centers. But experts say that closing Sohae would be a major development.

Ahead of the Singapore meeting, North Korea announced the suspension of its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing. It also closed its nuclear bomb test site.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke to reporters Wednesday about the issue. Reporters asked if North Korea had done anything toward denuclearization since the leaders’ meeting. Mattis answered: “No, I’m not aware of that.”

He added that, “it’s the very front end of a process. The detailed negotiations have not begun. I wouldn’t expect that at this point.”

Yang Uk, a research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum, said a shutdown of Sohae would be mainly symbolic.

Yang said, “Sohae has technically been used as an ‘engine’ testing site. North Korea has already finished developing (the) Baekdu Engine, so there would be no problem running ICBM missile programs even if they close down the Sohae site.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Reuters reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

monitor –v. to watch, to observe

unilateral –adj. involving only one group or country

located –adj. to be in a specific place

signal –v. to be a sign of something

symbolic –adj. representing something else, to be a symbol for something larger