Sunday, October 4, 2009

North Korea Completing New Missile Site

Defense News

North Korea Completing New Missile Site


By Wendell Minnick

Taipei - North Korea is completing a major new missile and space launch facility near Tongch'ang-dong village along the northwest coast, said Joseph Bermudez, an independent specialist on North Korean missile programs.

Bermudez said the facility would be able to launch both the Taepodong 2 ballistic missile and the Taepodong 2 Space Launch Vehicle. The facility also has a rocket engine test stand, he said.

The facility consists of a movable launch pad and 10-story "umbilical tower."

Bermudez said the rocket engine test stand is similar to the Iranian Shahid Hemmat test facility outside Tehran. Both countries have a history of collaboration on ballistic missile programs.

The revelation comes at a sensitive time as there are reports North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had a stroke, and the U.S. is attempting to persuade North Korea to abide by agreements to discontinue its nuclear weapon program.

North Korean officials threatened to abandon previous denuclearization agreements and renew its nuclear weapon program if Washington did not take Pyongyang off the terrorism watch list and lift financial sanctions imposed under the U.S. Trading With the Enemy Act.

U.S. officials claim North Korea has not come clean on its nuclear declaration list and has provided no means to verify what has been declared. Missing on the list are items the U.S. believes to be central to North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Pyongyang provided the list in June, but Washington claims the list is devoid of clues regarding North Korea's program to enrich uranium and its work with countries like Syria to develop nuclear weapons. There is also disagreement on how much plutonium North Korea has produced.

Pyongyang is seeking to minimize the intrusiveness of any inspection requirements, as it did in the 1994 Agreed Framework, said Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation.

However, North Korean negotiation antics are legendary and the cause for much of the angst the U.S. has faced since the end of the Korean War.

"There is a growing sense that Pyongyang's obstructionist antics are not merely negotiating ploys but are instead designed to achieve international recognition of, or acquiescence to, North Korea as a nuclear power," said Klingner, who served as an analyst on North Korea for both the U.S. CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency.

Klingner said there is "no magical combination of inducements" that will force Pyongyang to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle.

North Korea and the U.S. have raised the bar in recent weeks, with a North Korean soldier shooting a South Korean tourist and a joint South Korean-U.S. military exercise.

Given Kim's possible illness and revelations of a new missile base, the issue of denuclearization will most likely be addressed by the next U.S. administration.