If North Korea is denuclearizing, why is it expanding a nuclear research center?

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WASHINGTON — North Korea continues to make improvements to a major nuclear facility, raising questions about President Donald Trump’s claim that Kim Jong Un has agreed to disarm, independent experts tell NBC News.

New satellite images made public by 38north, a web site devoted to analyzing North Korea, show that “improvements to the infrastructure at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center are continuing at a rapid pace,” three 38north analysts concluded in a paper.

The analysts cautioned that the continued work at the Yongbyon facility “should not be seen as having any relationship to North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize. The North’s nuclear cadre can be expected to proceed with business as usual until specific orders are issued from Pyongyang.”

However, other experts argue that ongoing work on the site of a reactor that is producing fuel for nuclear weapons shows that North Korea has no intention of disarming.

Image:
North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex before its cooling tower was demolished on June 27, 2008.Kyodo

North Korea is continuing to expand its facilities to produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “We have never had a deal. The North Koreans never offered to give up their nuclear weapons. Never. Not once.”

James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added, “If they were serious about unilaterally disarming, of course they would have stopped work at Yongbyon. There is a huge gulf between what the administration apparently thinks North Korea is going to do and what they intend to do, and that’s exceptionally dangerous.”

He added, “The Trump administration is lying to itself and to the American people.”

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment. Spokesmen for the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA declined to comment.

Allison Puccioni, an imagery analyst at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and an expert on the Yongbyon facility, said it was unrealistic at this point to expect North Korea to have stopped working on the reactor complex.



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