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Is North Korea undermining the spirit of the Singapore summit with the United States?
Some reports in the US press indicate that North Korea continues to advance its weapons program, despite its declared commitment to denuclearization , which has cast doubt on the sincerity of its participation in the negotiations with Washington.
These recent reports, based on alleged leaks from US intelligence agencies, suggest that Pyongyang continues to improve its enclaves of uranium enrichment, among other activities.
But what is happening?
So far, the American press has said the following:
- North Korea is upgrading the Yongbyon plant, its only official uranium enrichment facility.
- It is making progress in this area in two or more secret sites, apart from Yongbyon.
- Pyongyang continues to build more ballistic missile launch vehicles.
- It has also expanded its production of missiles that use solid fuel, which are easier to transport and launch.
How reliable is this information? Although they are not official statements, they are considered accurate by respected specialists in issues related to North Korea.
This news is based on various unidentified sources from the US intelligence community, as well as the study of satellite images from the Yongbyon site by the group of experts working at 38 North , a web publication of analysis and research on Korea. from North.
How serious is the situation?
“None of these activities violates the agreements reached at the Singapore summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un,” says Vipin Narang, professor of Political Science and specialist in proliferation. of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In the declaration of closure of the meeting, Pyongyang only committed to work for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula , which it considers as a process of several stages.
The details of it have yet to be agreed by both parties.
“This was never going to be something unilateral and immediate, so Kim Jong-un is free to continue operating in existing facilities,” says Narang.
However, reports that North Korea continues its nuclear activities are seen as undermining the spirit of the summit and casting doubt on the sincere intention of Pyongyang in relation to denuclearization.
“The general picture is that North Korea’s nuclear program is going ahead as Kim Jong-un indicated in his speech in January , when he urged to maintain production of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles,” explains Ankit Panda, editor of the magazine. The Diplomat .
What is the biggest revelation?
The solid fuel rockets are easy to transport and, therefore, are a breakthrough for Pyongyang. Along with mobile launch platforms, they give North Korea the ability to fire missiles from places that can be quickly established undetected by South Korea or the United States.
However, until now, the biggest revelation is related to secret uranium enrichment plants . Until now, Pyongyang had only recognized that it had one: Yongbyon.
For some time there had been suspicions that there were more secret installations. An exclusive report by the US network NBC , which quoted US intelligence sources, confirmed and named one of those places and ensures that there is at least one other.
“You can imagine a North Korean strategy whereby, without fully disclosing all its facilities, offer to close some of the known sites to obtain a lifting of the sanctions against them,” explains Narang.
“At the same time, they would advance clandestinely in their secret sites ,” he adds.
Why do these revelations happen now?
It is probable that the intelligence agencies of the United States have known for some time the information that is now leaking. It is also plausible that Trump has been informed of this during the preparations for the Singapore summit.
But why is it leaking to the press?
“The large number of leaks about nuclear activity gives the impression that it is an authorized attempt to get that intelligence information to the public sphere, ” says Andray Abrahamian, researcher specializing in issues related to North Korea Institute Asia from the University of Griffith (Australia).
Experts believe that there are two reasons why the US intelligence community may have decided to release this information at this time.
The first scenario would be to “counteract the White House’s speech that this case is about a mission accomplished,” says Narang.
So they could “limit Trump a bit so he can not proclaim successes that have not yet been achieved,” agrees Abrahamian.
“This worries the community dedicated to foreign policy and the pressure on Trump is increased so that it is not weak with the North Koreans.”
The second scenario would be that it is, in fact, an operation coordinated by the Trump government to obtain more capacity to influence the negotiations . By revealing the reach of US intelligence, Washington can pressure Pyongyang to recognize the existence of its secret operations and facilities.
“It was always assumed that we would let the North Koreans reveal the information about their sites and contrast that information with the list that the American intelligence community has, you would immediately have a perception of whether they are negotiating in good faith or not,” Panda explains.
“Now that we have revealed what we know about secret plants to enrich uranium, we can see if the North Koreans will decide to make them public or not,” he adds.
Will the pressure work?
The big question that remains unanswered is whether, after the Singapore summit, this kind of pressure will really be able to channel Pyongyang in the desired direction.
The wave of recent information about the maintenance of North Korea’s military and nuclear efforts suggests that the country intends to maintain its nuclear and ballistic capabilities and even to continue expanding them.
“It could be that Pyongyang is calculating that, no matter what it does, China has already abandoned its campaign of maximum pressure against North Korea, and that the United States, in reality, can not maintain it without China,” warns Narang.
“Kim Jong-un could simply say ‘I’ve done what I had to do to end the campaign of maximum pressure’ and I think I could be right, ” he concludes.