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Missiles ‘Fake News,’ says Trump

Nov 15,2018
Pyongyang has continued its nuclear and missile activities even after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump met in Singapore on June 12, according to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) Wednesday.

Seoul’s top spy agency briefed lawmakers during a close-door meeting of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee following reports Monday that North Korea continues to operate undeclared missile bases in the midst of denuclearization negotiations with the United States.

“It is presumed that nuclear and missile activities have continued even after the North-U.S. summit,” Kim Sang-gyun, the second vice director of the NIS, was quoted as saying by lawmakers who attended the meeting. Kim added that this encompasses “continued development of its nuclear program including the miniaturization of nuclear warheads even now.”

However, an NIS official said “there have been no signs of any testing” of its nuclear weapons.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Beyond Parallel group released a report Monday revealing at least 13 of an estimated 20 undeclared missile operating bases inside North Korea. In a follow-up report, it identified Sakkanmol in North Hwanghae Province as one such base located near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) for short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) such as Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6 missiles, also known as Scuds.

The NIS confirmed that it was “already aware” of the operation of the Sakkanmol missile base and that “a regular level of activity continues there.”

The NIS monitors other missile bases as well, according to the NIS. Thus, South Korea and the United States are sharing information and “jointly closely monitoring facilities and activities related to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.”

The NIS said it could not explain in further detail intelligence gained through South Korea-U.S. coordination.

One National Assembly Intelligence Committee member said after the meeting, “The short- and mid-range missiles deployed to Sakkanmol, such as Scuds and Rodongs, are not strategic assets like intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), thus are a separate issue from the North-U.S. denuclearization issue.” The NIS already has been tracking the Sakkanmol base and is said to have strategies to respond to shorter-range missiles, the official added.

Another member pointed out, “It seems to be a U.S. State Department negotiation strategy to push its position that its ballistic missile program is included in Kim Jong-un’s [denuclearization] promises.”

Short- and mid-range missiles are not seen to pose a serious threat to the United States, and “there is not a high likelihood that North Korea will be asked to scrap them,” according to this lawmaker.

Trump brushed off the report of North Korea’s undisclosed missiles bases as “nothing new” and “more Fake News” over Twitter Tuesday.

The New York Times reported Monday that North Korea is moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases, identified in new commercial satellite images, and “has been engaged in a great deception.”

Trump responded: “The story in the New York Times concerning North Korea developing missile bases is inaccurate. We fully know about the sites being discussed, nothing new - and nothing happening out of the normal.”

Trump added, “I will be the first to let you know if things go bad!”

Kim Eui-kyeom, the Blue House spokesman, on Tuesday downplayed the report of undeclared missile bases as old information and also rejected the notion that Pyongyang had been engaged in “deception.” He added that North Korea has never “promised” to scrap its ballistic missile program under any agreement.

But opposition party lawmakers were quick to say that Blue House spokesman Kim seemed like a mouthpiece for the North Korean government.

“How would the Blue House spokesman know if there was some agreement or promise - is he North Korea’s spokesman?” Yoon Young-seok, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) spokesman, said Tuesday. “North Korean denuclearization includes the complete dismantlement of its nuclear weapons, materials and facilities, including its missiles and delivery systems, so it is not acceptable that the Blue House is protecting its missiles.”

Ruling Democratic Party lawmakers were dismissive of the report and concerns that it could derail the denuclearization negotiations.

“The controversy is over inaccurate content, and the photographs released by the CSIS are commercial satellite imagery,” said Hong Young-pyo, floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party, during a party supreme council meeting Wednesday. “There is nothing new, and no need for unnecessary overreaction over one image, as if North Korea is backtracking on the denuclearization and operating a new base.”

But Hong said that this was “an opportunity to feel the need for North-U.S. and inter-Korean dialogue” and that “it becomes clear for a need to resume North-U.S. denuclearization negotiations at an early date and build trust to seal a final deal.”

Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council and a former special assistant to the director of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, wrote an opinion piece for the 38 North website calling the New York Times article “misleading.”

He wrote, “The United States and North Korea have yet to conclude an agreement that inhibits deployment of missiles by Pyongyang, never mind requiring their dismantlement.”

Sigal pointed out that negotiating a halt to the deployment and production of ICBMs and intermediate-range ballistic missiles “is much more urgent than addressing short-range missiles, which might remain in place as long as they are not nuclear-armed but are part of the North’s conventional deterrent.”

However, Heather Nauert, spokesperson of the U.S. State Department, in a briefing Tuesday highlighted that “ballistic missiles continue to be a threat from North Korea,” as recognized in UN Security Council resolutions and by “many other governments.”

Despite this, Nauert said, “We have come an awfully long way since last summer, when ballistic missiles were being launched.”

She said, “We see that as progress,” though “a lot of people like to pooh-pooh that idea.” But she acknowledged “there is work that’s left to be done.”

Trump “talked about a possible upcoming meeting early next year with Chairman Kim,” said Nauert, adding, “we continue to stay in contact with the North Koreans.”

High-level talks between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol scheduled for last week in New York were abruptly canceled and postponed to an unconfirmed later date. That meeting could have discussed a date and venue for a second Kim-Trump summit.

However, John Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser, who is in Singapore for a series of Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related meetings, confirmed Tuesday that Trump remains prepared to hold a second summit with Kim Jong-un.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in Tokyo Tuesday, “President Trump believes his relationship with Chairman Kim is good” and that “good progress” has been made on the agreements reached during their first summit in Singapore but that “more work remains.”

Standing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a joint press conference, Pence continued, “As we speak, another summit is being arranged, but the president has made it clear that the time for implementing the agreement is not a driving factor.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]