Photos show no prep for North Korea launch or nuclear test
SEOUL, South Korea — There is no evidence that North Korea is preparing for a rocket launch or nuclear test, despite rampant speculation that it might stage such an event to mark the birthday of its ruling party, a top official with a U.S. research institute said Monday.
Pyongyang has a history of staging provocations linked to major dates, and few are as big as the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party founding this Saturday. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has warned the North of consequences if such tests are carried out in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
However, satellite imagery taken last month show no preparations at key North Korean test sites, said Joel Wit, a former U.S. State Department official who manages 38 North, a North Korea-focused website maintained by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
“I think the bottom line here is that all these reports about possible long-range rocket or nuclear tests on or before Oct. 10 are just all wrong; all speculation,” he told a news briefing in Washington that was reported Tuesday by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. “No evidence to support it whatsoever.
“I would even go as far to say that the North Koreans are probably having a lot of fun with their periodic interviews, talking about how it’s their right to launch a space-launch vehicle and explore space, and everyone runs off and writes a story about it as if it’s going to happen tomorrow and it isn’t,” he said.
There are no signs of an impending rocket or missile test, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said Tuesday.
Satellite images taken Sept. 17 of the North’s Sohae satellite launching station showed no launch preparations or significant activities at related facilities, including fuel and oxidizer storage buildings, that would be typical if a launch were looming, according to 38 North.
Images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, taken a day later, showed new activity, including the presence of four large vehicles near a tunnel entrance. The purpose of that activity was unclear and could be related to anything from maintenance to nuclear test preparations, the website said.
Buildings under construction at a rocket test site are much larger than other buildings there, and could signal that the North is preparing to test a larger engine meant for bigger rockets with longer ranges, Wit said Monday, according to Yonhap. However, it would take time for the North to test such an engine, he said.
Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this story.