According to the US television channel NBC, citing the newest intelligence data and specifically, three senior US officials, North Korea has stepped up efforts to conceal evidence of its ongoing nuclear activity. The sources detailed Pyongyang erecting multiple structures to disguise the entrance to at least one warhead storage facility.
US intelligence also reportedly saw North Korean workers moving warheads out of the facility, with one former senior official adding that North Korea strategically moves its equipment around aiming to obfuscate foreign surveillance. According to the official US sources, Pyongyang could produce five to eight brand-new nuclear weapons in 2018, which shows little has changed since the historic Kim-Trump summit in Singapore three months ago.
The same opinion was reiterated by a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation Bruce W. Bennett, as cited by NBC. He stressed that since the beginning of the year, Kim has “surrendered no nuclear weapons,” but adversely, “has been nuclearizing” since then.
In late July, The Washington Post reported that US intelligence agencies had seen signs of new missile construction in North Korea, citing officials familiar with the intelligence and satellite photos obtained by them.
However, on Sunday, September 9, as North Korea held its annual Foundation Day military parade to commemorate 70 years since the nation was founded, when Kim traditionally displays the country’s military advances, North Korea withheld from displaying any ICBMs. On Twitter, President Trump said “experts” applauded the absence as a cue of the Kim regime’s “commitment to denuclearization,” reinstated during the May summit.
He thanked Kim and called the lack of missiles a “very positive statement.” “Kim Jong Un of North Korea proclaims 'unwavering faith in President Trump.' Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together!" Trump wrote on Twitter earlier this week.
According to a spokesperson for the National Security Council, President Trump is personally directing the pressure campaign against North Korea, given the fact that the issue is one of the major talking points in the president’s mid-term campaign, with the congressional elections slated for November.
Meanwhile, whatever the reality behind the concealment efforts, a number of analysts believe stiff limitations are not the way to proceed. For instance, James Faeh, former Pentagon desk officer specializing in Korea issues, warned that increased sanctions and shaming those not abiding with them is not the right means to force North Korea to denuclearize.
"Keeping pressure on North Korea in a tangible way is the right path forward, but that has to involve outreach to other countries in the region and holding their feet to the fire about their cooperation with the brutal North Korean regime," he told NBC.
Some believe that new constructed ICBMS monitored through satellites are an intentional effort to seek more economic concessions from the US and other countries.
“But they have done it in the open air, so everybody, including Japan, South Korea, the United States, Russia, and China, can see it. I believe they’re doing this to increase their leverage in terms of negotiations," Suh Kune-yull, a professor of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University, told Sputnik.
The Singapore summit on June 12 is believed to have signaled a thaw in US-North Korean diplomatic ties. During the high-level talks, North Korea expressed commitment to abandon its nuclear weapons program, while the United States pledged to provide security guarantees to Pyongyang, namely freeze US-South Korean military drills.