WASHINGTON – Satellite imagery shows North Korea razed some facilities used for testing ballistic missiles last month after declaring it was suspending nuclear explosions and missile launches, a U.S. website reported Wednesday.
A stand used for missile ejection tests was demolished near Kusong in the country's northwest, according North Korea expert Joseph Bermudez. Ejection tests are to test the initial launch of a missile from a canister and firing up its first-stage engine rather than a full-blown launch.
His analysis was published by 38 North, a Washington-based website which tracks developments in the isolated nation's weapons programs.
In April, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced he was suspending ballistic missile and nuclear testing, paving the way for negotiations on its nuclear weapons program with the United States that will culminate in a historic summit next week in Singapore with President Donald Trump.
In a sign of goodwill, North Korea last month also demolished tunnels and buildings at its nuclear test site in the country's remote northeast and provided rare access to foreign journalists. That action is not irreversible, and many more significant measures would be needed to meet Trump's demand for denuclearization.
According to Wednesday's analysis, the Iha-ri site north of the city of Kusong was used for developing a medium-range solid fuel missile, which can be fired faster and more secretly than missiles using liquid fuel. It could also have been used for testing mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles displayed by Pyongyang during a parade last year.
Work to raze the missile test stand and nearby support structures began in the second week of May and appeared nearly complete in a May 19 image, the website said. However, it's unclear if this shows North Korea is suspending this aspect of its missile program or intends to erect similar facilities in the future.
Joel Wit, a former State Department official and 38 North editor, said it was a small step intended to signal North Korea's seriousness about halting its long-range missile programs. However, whether there are bigger steps to come remains unclear, he said.