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N Korea at crossroads

North Korea is rebuilding its ICBM launch site, South says

Work signals Pyongyang may be preparing to resume its nuclear weapons program

North Korea tested three intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017, before tensions eased on the Korean Peninsula last year.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- North Korea is rebuilding its long-range missile launch site in the northwestern coastal town of Tongchang-ri, South Korea's spy agency said, in a sign that Pyongyang may be preparing to resume its nuclear weapons program.

National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon said that North Korea is putting a roof and doors on the site, where intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland can be launched. This is despite North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promising to dismantle the facility in a September summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

"North Korea is rebuilding parts of the facilities they previously removed," Suh was quoted as saying Tuesday by legislators briefing media. "There are two possibilities. One is they intend to maximize the effect should they destroy them. The other is to resume launching long-range missiles."

The announcement came a week after talks on denuclearization between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump collapsed in Hanoi. Trump blamed North Korea for being unwilling to give up its nuclear arms, while Pyongyang officials said the U.S. would not agree to a lifting of enough sanctions.

John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, said on a U.S. show Tuesday that Washington would consider ramping up sanctions if Pyongyang did not scrap its nuclear weapons program.

The Sohae Satellite Launching Station launch pad features what researchers of Beyond Parallel, a CSIS project, describe as showing the partially rebuilt rail-mounted rocket transfer structure in a commercial satellite image taken over Tongchang-ri, North Korea on March 2   © Reuters

Suh at the NIS said North Korea was disappointed that talks with the U.S. collapsed, and that he did not expect Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table any time soon.

38 North, a website run by the Stimson Center in Washington, published images from commercial satellites that it said confirmed North Korea was restoring structures such a rocket launch pad and an engine test stand. The site said the work started at sometime between Feb. 16 and March 2.

This satellite image shows that the vertical engine stand is partially rebuilt with two construction cranes, several vehicles and supplies laying on the ground.   © Reuters

The site said the rail-mounted transfer building on the launch pad was being reassembled; walls have been erected and a new rood added; and on the engine test stand, the support structure was being put back together,

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