Dec 22, 2019

Evidence of new work at North Korea site linked to long-range missiles

Kim Jong-un flanked by military officials, 2017. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea has begun fresh work at a factory involved in the development and production of intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, per satellite images shared by Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Why it matters: Lewis said on Saturday that Pyongyang is expanding work at the March 16 Factory in Pyongsong, where North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "watched preparations" for the 2017 test of the Hwasong-15 missile, which was theoretically capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

Between the lines: "The site makes trucks to transport and launch ICBMs, so this is a long-term development," Lewis told Axios via email. "But what it shows is that North Korea is broadly expanding its missile capabilities." 

  • Lewis posted satellite images to Twitter that were taken by Planet Labs showing evidence of North Korea's developments.

The big picture: Trump administration officials have expressed concern about an escalation of tensions with North Korea in recent weeks, Axios' Jonathan Swan notes.

  • Last Saturday, North Korea announced it had carried out a launch test near the Chinese border, which it said "would help bolster the country's nuclear deterrent," the Washington Post reports.
  • Pyongyang has issued "vague threats" ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline that Kim set for President Trump to make concessions, including the lifting of sanctions, per Swan. Trump has shown no desire to do so.

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Trump brushes off North Korea "Christmas gift"

President Trump on Dec. 24. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump on Tuesday dismissed North Korea's threat of a "Christmas gift" for the U.S., saying the military would “deal with it very successfully," Reuters reports.

Why it matters: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un said in October that the U.S. had until year’s end to propose new concessions in talks over his country’s nuclear arsenal and warned the U.S. to not ignore the deadline.

Go deeperArrowDec 24, 2019

Exclusive: John Bolton hits Trump for bluffing on North Korea nukes

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Ed Jones/AFP, Saul Loeb/AFP, Brendan Smialowski/AFP, and Sergei Gapon/AFP all via Getty Images

In his sharpest criticism yet of his old workplace, John Bolton suggested the Trump administration is bluffing about stopping North Korea's nuclear ambitions — and soon might need to admit publicly that its policy failed badly.

Driving the news: Bolton told me in an interview that he does not think the administration "really means it" when President Trump and top officials vow to stop North Korea from having deliverable nuclear weapons — "or it would be pursuing a different course."

Go deeperArrowDec 22, 2019

New structure confirmed in North Korea military manufacturing area

Satellite imagery now confirms the construction of a new structure this month at a factory, near Pyongyang, where North Korea manufactures military trucks used as mobile launchers for long-range missiles.

Why it matters, from AP: North Korea has warned that what “Christmas gift” it gives the U.S. depends on what action Washington takes.

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Keep ReadingArrowDec 24, 2019