According to analysts focusing on North Korean issues on the site 38 North, not only has Pyongyang not started the denuclearization process, but it is making improvements to its program at “at a rapid pace.”
Using satellite imagery, three experts have determined that a variety of projects are continuing at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, where new buildings are going up, uranium enrichment continues, and modifications to key technical equipment are moving a fast clip.
The researchers note that these upgrades don’t mean that the North Korean pledge to denuclearize is a no-go — which is true. What these ongoing projects do signify, though, is that unlike what President Donald Trump would like us to believe, Pyongyang is a long, long way away from actually getting rid of its nuclear program.
It also shows that North Korea is staying on the path it was traveling prior to the June 12 summit in Singapore: In the absence of economic benefits and security guarantees that go beyond a temporary suspension of U.S.- South Korea military exercises, Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program is here to stay.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association told ThinkProgress that it’s not surprising that the North Koreans are doing what they’re doing, because while they committed to stop nuclear and ballistic testing, they did not agree to halt the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium.
“So this, in my view, underscores the urgent need to pursue the difficult and detailed negotiations that are going to be necessary to bring about a verifiable halt to all of North Korea’s nuclear activities so that they can’t improve their nuclear capacities while talks on denuclearization go on,” said Kimball.
“As we speak here, pleasantly, on the telephone, the North Koreans — who, yes, have halted nuclear testing for now and have halted ballistic testing — are still churning out highly enriched uranium and plutonium that can be used to add to their existing stockpile of nuclear weapons,” he said.
Getting Pyongyang off this path, he said, will required “difficult and detailed” work — something President Trump doesn’t seem to highlight in his messaging.
No sooner had the president returned from that baffling Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that he began counting his chickens:
Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer – sleep well tonight!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
This, despite the reality that no one was really worried that the United States would actually go to war with North Korea during President Barack Obama’s presidency. In fact, that became a real danger once President Trump came into office and started making threats of “fire and fury” and “total destruction.” (North Korea, of course, countered in its own colorful fashion.)
Though there was nothing that detailed the when and how of denuclearization in the incredibly brief agreement Trump signed with Kim (upon whom the U.S. president heaped praise, much to the horror of American lawmakers and human rights activists), the president was quick to chalk it up as a done deal:
The denuclearization deal with North Korea is being praised and celebrated all over Asia. They are so happy! Over here, in our country, some people would rather see this historic deal fail than give Trump a win, even if it does save potentially millions & millions of lives!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 17, 2018
As CNN reported earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has refused to put a timeline on when the negotiations might yield a result beyond the signed joint statement.
“Trump has, after the Singapore meeting, oversold what it has produced,” said Kimball. Detailed denuclearization steps need to be negotiated, possibly with South Korea, that will include how to ease tensions and bring about a formal peace treaty, none of which was spelled out out in Singapore.
Verifiable denuclearization at the active sites — of which Kimball said there are at least two — will require regular confirmation by international inspectors, who must also ensure that there are no undisclosed sites.
Still, he added, “it does establish a minimal foundation for the detailed talks and the work that is necessary to halt, and then reverse, and then eliminate North Korea’s nuclear and missile infrastructure. But the mission is clearly not accomplished.”