North Korea still secretly enriching uranium, say US officials
Report cites ‘unequivocal evidence they are trying to deceive the US’ in blow to Donald Trump
Julian Borger in Washington
Sat 30 Jun 2018 02.39 BST Last modified on Sat 30 Jun 2018 02.57 BST
North Korea has increased its production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons at secret sites in recent months, contrary to Donald Trump’s claims that it was “no longer a nuclear threat”, according to a new report.
NBC News quoted more than a dozen US officials familiar with the intelligence assessments. Coming soon after satellite images showed rapid improvements being made to a North Korean nuclear research facility at Yongbyon, the developments will make it harder for Trump to claim that his summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore this month was a success.
Neither of the concessions the US president claimed Kim had delivered – the destruction of a missile engine testing site, and the repatriation of the remains of US soldiers killed in the Korean war – has materialised so far.
North Korea making ‘rapid’ upgrades to nuclear reactor despite summit pledges
Meanwhile Trump has already made a significant US concession: suspending joint exercises with South Korea that had been due to start in August.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is reported to be planning a trip to Pyongyang in early July to continue negotiations with the North Korean government, in the hope of persuading the regime to make specific commitments on nuclear disarmament.
Over the past seven months the North Koreans have conducted no new missile or nuclear tests. But NBC quoted a US official briefed on the latest intelligence as saying that uranium enrichment had been stepped up.
“There’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production,” the official said. “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the US.”
It has long been suspected that the North Koreans have established a uranium enrichment plant in at least one secret site apart from Yongbyon complex.
“There are lots of things that we know that North Korea has tried to hide from us for a long time,” a US intelligence official told NBC.
The joint statement signed by Trump and Kim in Singapore was vaguely worded. Kim promised “complete denuclearisation” but that has been Pyongyang’s theoretical policy since 1992, and the regime interprets it to mean a long-term mutual process in which the US would also disarm.
Pompeo was due to start follow-on negotiations with the North Korean leadership within a week of the 12 June Singapore summit. But Pyongyang appears to have dragged its heels. The secretary of state is now hoping to visit Pyongyang during a trip to the far east in the second week of July, as first reported by the Financial Times.
“There was a delay but I think he has now got the agreement to go,” said Victor Cha, a former director of Asian affairs at the National Security Council.
“They have to put meat on the bones of the Singapore statement. Pompeo is under pressure to get something before August, when the exercises were going to start,” said Cha, now at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
It the visit goes ahead it is possible Kim would order the repatriation of the remains of between 100 and 200 US service personnel killed in the 1950-53 war, to coincide with Pompeo’s arrival. It is a gesture that US officials had been predicting would take place last week. Trump told a rally in Minnesota last week that the repatriation had already happened.
“Pompeo needs to get the remains of the POWs and MIAs [missing in action] but it’s not enough,” Cha said, arguing the secretary of state would have to extract a concrete commitment on disarmament to live up to the administration’s claims for the Singapore summit.