Bay Area research team says N. Korea is expanding missile program


A Bay Area research team says their analysis of satellite imagery shows North Korea has spent the past two months expanding its Chemical Material Institute, which manufacturers components for North Korean missiles, even as President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Singapore to discuss denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.


The researchers at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey say they matched satellite images from San Francisco-based Planet Labs with photos of Kim Jong Un's visit to the site last year. The satellite photos appear to contradict statements that North Korea is decreasing stockpiles.


A time-lapse of satellite images shows the construction of multiple buildings starting in April and continuing through the end of June with the blue rooftops appearing to show the expansion of the facility in Hamhung.


"It shows that they're invested in continuing to expand their ballistic missile fleet," said Dave Schmerler, a Research Associate at MIIS who co-authored the report with Jeffrey Lewis.


"I think this shows a disconnect between what Donald Trump is saying North Korea promised and what they're actually doing," said Schmerler.


White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said talks have been ongoing ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's trip to Pyongyang Friday.


"We're continuing to make progress," said Sanders, "Secretary Pompeo, as I just mentioned, uh, will be headed to North Korea later this week and we're going to continue those conversations."


The conversations, some say, have yet to produce concrete criteria for the denuclearization of North Korea.


Following the June 12 summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un, President Trump declared in a tweet, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."


On Sunday, President Trump repeated his faith in the North Korean leader.


"I really believe North Korea has a tremendous future.  I got along really well with Chairman Kim.  We had a great chemistry," said President Trump.


The new report Monday comes just a day after U.S. intelligence insiders said there is evidence that North Korea has been concealing at least one uranium enrichment facility which produces material for nuclear bombs.

Schmerler says there is evidence that North Korea is preparing to expand two other missile manufacturing sites. He says the public needs to keep an eye on whether political rhetoric reflects political reality.


"First, a list of declared sites that involve North Korea's WMD production capabilities and what not and see the activity at the sites either slow down or see the North Koreans begin to dismantle these sites," said Schmerler.


"I made a deal with him.  I shook hands with him.  I really believe he means it. Now is it possible?   Have I been in deals, have you been in things where people didn't work out?  It's possible," said President Trump Sunday.


Secretary Pompeo is expected to present a U.S. plan to North Korea for dismantling its nuclear and missile programs within one year.

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