Ryan Pickrell, DCNF
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to destroy a major missile engine test site, during his meetings with President Donald Trump in Singapore, and it may be a much bigger deal than it was initially made out to be.
The site set for destruction is reportedly the Tongchang-ri site, more commonly known as the Sohae Satellite Launch Center, according to the Chosun Ilbo, which cites diplomatic sources.
“Chairman Kim has told me that North Korea is already destroying a major missile engine testing site, that is not in your signed document, we agreed to that after the agreement was signed,” Trump said at a post-summit press conference, “That’s a big thing, the missiles that they were testing, the site is going to be destroyed very soon.”
Trump’s comments on this facility were largely dismissed, but they may be worth paying attention to if the site in question is, in fact, the Sohae Satellite Launch Center.
The closure of the Tongchang-ri facility could be considered an important concession, as it would noticeably limit North Korea’s research and development capabilities for space launch and ballistic missile technology. “That is an active site and would be a concession,” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the the East Asia Nonproliferation Program for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, tweeted Thursday in response to the Chosun Ilbo report.
Explaining that Sohae is the “primary test and launch facility” for North Korea’s space program, home to the North’s “most sophisticated engine test stand,” and an important site for the development of liquid-fueled missiles, 38 North researcher Joe Bermudez told The Daily Caller News Foundation that closing the Tongchang-ri site would be “very significant.”
There are, of course, other testing facilities and other test stands, but it would be a step in the right direction.
“It would be a concession. It’s where they tested the single-chambered RD-250 + four-vernier engine configuration seen in the first-stage of the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-12 ICBM/IRBM. Unclear that they’d really need that site for further testing of large liquid propellant engines,” Ankit Panda, a senior editor at The Diplomat and a foreign policy expert, tweeted Thursday.
“This actually makes me a bit optimistic. Tongchang is a big engine test stand,” Scott LaFoy, an open source image analyst, tweeted. The Tongchang-ri testing facility can be seen clearly in the tweet below.
For reference, in no particular order, from three engine tests at Tongchang/Sohae pic.twitter.com/eqCcCpoXjF
— Scott LaFoy (@wslafoy) June 14, 2018
“Kim Jong-un must have won a number of major concessions from Trump in other sectors in return for destroying such a major facility,” a diplomatic source explained to the Chosun Ilbo. During negotiations, the president offered Kim security assurances and a path to peace, as well as a promise to halt joint military drills with South Korea as long as North Korea continued to negotiate in good faith.
The North Korean leader offered a commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but it is unclear when or if North Korea will actually move to disarm. A few weeks prior to the summit, North Korea closed the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
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