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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 14)

Politics 07:07 November 14, 2018

More pressure on NK
US reports show Pyongyang is operating secret missile sites

Amid a protracted deadlock in U.S.-North Korea nuclear negotiations, the latest news reports suggest that the North is continuing its missile development despite earlier agreements with the U.S. and South Korea this year for its complete denuclearization.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank based in Washington, said in a report released Monday that it had discovered more than a dozen ballistic missile bases in North Korea. The report said the missile operating bases could be used for "all classes of ballistic missiles from short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) up to and including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM)."

One of the sites highlighted is the Sakkanmol base for short-range ballistic missiles in North Hwanghae Province, only 135 kilometers from Seoul and just 85 kilometers from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The report is based on commercial satellite imagery, and interviews with relevant officials and some North Korean defectors.

The findings prompted more skepticism from U.S. media about North Korea's sincerity in committing to denuclearization. A Nov. 12 New York Times article concluded that "North has been engaged in a great deception."

Although Cheong Wa Dae said it was going too far to call the situation a "deception," concerns are rising in South Korea and the U.S. that North Korea remains active in its nuclear and missile development.

The presidential office played down the latest findings, saying there was nothing new and that state intelligence agencies in Seoul and Washington were already well informed about them. During a regular briefing Tuesday, presidential spokesman Kim Eui-gyeom was criticized for an idle view of the situation. He said North Korea had never signed any agreements to dismantle or declare the sites mentioned in the report.

He said the findings highlighted the need for "prompt negotiations." This is far from the stance that the U.S. took about the findings. "President Trump has made clear that should Chairman Kim follow through on his commitments, including complete denuclearization and the elimination of ballistic missile programs, a much brighter future lies ahead for North Korea and its people," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

It is worrisome that Seoul is putting too much focus on improving inter-Korean relations when the U.S. is still maintaining pressure on North Korea until it shows real progress toward denuclearization.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reaffirmed the need to retain sanctions on Pyongyang during his talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Tuesday. "As I will make clear, the United States will continue to exert unprecedented diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea," Pence said in a contribution to the Washington Post ahead of his visit to Asia.

President Moon Jae-in needs to be mindful of this during his visit to the ASEAN and APEC meetings in Singapore and Papua New Guinea this week.

(END)

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