Commercial satellite imagery from March 6 of North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station. Photo: Airbus Defence & Space and 38 North. Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS.

North Korea’s Sohae rocket launch site is back to “normal operational status” just 1 week after the Hanoi summit ended in “no deal,” according to an analysis of satellite images by 38 North.

Backstory: North Korea has in recent days been repairing the site, which it partially destroyed following the Singapore summit last year. Joel Wit of 38 North said at a Stimson Center event this week that the regime had poured a lot of money and effort into Sohae, viewed its partial destruction as "above and beyond the call of duty," and felt the U.S. was refusing to make any concessions in return.

  • Wit said he didn't expect a test at Sohae in the short term and asked: “How can everyone dismiss the importance of this site [when North Korea offered to dismantle it] and now when they start to rebuild it all the alarm bells are going off?”
  • “The fact that they were willing to dismantle it had larger symbolic meaning,” added 38 North’s Jenny Town. She said it signaled the North Koreans might be willing to eliminate their space program, which is a source of national pride and was a sticking point in past negotiations.

What’s next: “You don’t know whether this is a bargaining tactic or whether someone has made a decision that now we’re moving on this other track,” Wit said. Noting that neither Trump nor Kim Jong-un is known for patience, he added: “What’s going on at Sohae tells me someone might have said, ‘let’s take a shortcut.’”

  • “The danger here is we could start spiraling downward as each side takes steps that undermine the process that’s been in place since last June.”

The latest: Trump was asked today about the activity at Sohae and said he’d be “very disappointed in Chairman Kim” if the news proved accurate, but “it'll ultimately get solved."

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