U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said that reports of North Korea dismantling one of its key satellite launching sites were in line with verbal commitments North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made at the Singapore summit in June.
Pompeo made the comments at a press conference with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop, and Australian defense minister Marise Payne in San Francisco.
The U.S. had requested inspectors to be present at the dismantling, Pompeo added, though did not go into further details on whether foreign observers were at the site, or if they might visit in future.
“It’d be entirely consistent with the commitment that Chairman Kim made to President Trump when the two of them were in Singapore together. He made that commitment to them orally,” Pompeo said.
“We’ve been pressing for there to be inspectors on the ground when that engine test facility is dismantled consistent with Chairman Kim’s commitment, and I’ll leave it at that for this morning.”
The State Department also declined to comment further on the possibility of inspectors at or visiting the site.
Pompeo’s comments come in response to a recent report from North Korea-watching website 38 North, which on Monday published satellite imagery revealing the dismantlement activity at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.
The station was previously used for testing rockets capable of carrying satellites into space, but would have also provided necessary data for ICBM development.
One specialist on Tuesday told NK News that the significance of the move was unclear until more information emerged.
“It is curious that they start with demolishing their spaceport and thus discontinuing their space launch program, at least of the UNHA type SLVs, indicating that they are giving up at least for the time any program of heavier space vehicles,” Uzi Rubin – a pre-eminent Israeli expert on missile defense – said.
The significance of the purported dismantlement of a rocket test stand, Rubin continued, largely depended on how frequently the site was used in recent missile development.
“If the rocket test stand was used exclusively for the older technology, then the implication does not go beyond curtailment of the space program, which is not a big step for Kim,” he said.
“If, however, this stand was also used to prove out the more modern motors, this may indicate a serious curtailment of the ICBM program, a big step for Kim.”
North Korea is yet to make any public statements about the dismantling of the site.
Tuesday’s press conference also saw both the U.S. and Australia reiterate their commitments to enforcing sanctions on the DPRK until it denuclearizes, while Australia’s defense minister added the country was also awaiting the remains of soldiers who died during the Korean War.
“We’ve provided dental records and DNA information from Australia to assist in the identification of any remains that may be provided to the United States. This remains a challenging process, but a very, very important one,” Payne said.
North Korea agreed to immediately repatriate the remains of previously identified soldiers as part of the Singapore declaration signed by Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12, though has not yet delivered any in the intervening six weeks.
While addressing U.S. veterans on Tuesday in a speech in Kansas City, Trump said he was expecting the remains to be returned “soon.”
“As you may know we’re also working to bring back the remains of your brothers in arms who gave their lives to Korea,” the President said.
“I hope that very soon these fallen warriors will begin coming home to lay at rest in American soil.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: State Department