North Korea is continuing to significantly upgrade a long-range missile launch facility, the expert website 38 North said in a Monday report that analyzes recent satellite photographs.
Surveillance images taken as recently as Oct. 9 of the Dongchang-ri missile complex suggest a potential secondary re-locatable missile-launch pad is being built, which would be in addition to a suspected initial flat-mobile pad first spotted in August. North Korea has developed two mobile extended-range ballistic missiles that are not yet known to have been tested: the intermediate-range Musudan and the suspected intercontinental ballistic missile KN-08. The new missiles could be test-fired from the flat pads once construction is completed.
Additionally, a new road bridging the distance between the Dongchang-ri missile assembly facility and the new firing space is under construction, as are two new bridges. The North began a spate of new construction projects at the missile complex sometime in the late spring, early summer.
Dongchang-ri is North Korea's newest ballistic-missile and rocket-launch site. It is located in the country's northwest, near the border with China.
38 North image analyst and report author Nick Hansen said it is too early to know for certain what all of the building activity is aimed at. However, "evidence is growing that these activities are intended to support the two main priorities for North Korea's rocket program -- launches of larger rockets and of new mobile missiles -- and that [Dongchang-ri] will be the main, and perhaps sole, test facility in the future," he says.
Hansen speculated enhancements to a launchpad used for Unha 3 rocket firings could be completed soon, permitting the Kim Jong Un regime to fire larger-sized space vehicles from the platform. "Other construction activities, particularly those related to the possible flat mobile missile launch pads, will take longer to complete, perhaps by mid-2014."
North Korea's ongoing efforts to expand its missile and nuclear-weapons programs were discussed on Monday by the Obama administration's special envoy for North Korea policy, Glyn Davies, and his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, according to a State Department release. Wu was scheduled to meet again on Tuesday with Davies and U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.
"Special Representative Wu's visit is part of a series of high-level, in-depth U.S.-China discussions on how to achieve our shared goal of a denuclearized North Korea in a peaceful manner," a State Department spokesperson said.
Washington and Beijing both are participants in the paralyzed six-party process aimed at permanently ending North Korea's nuclear weapons work. The other members are Japan, the two Koreas and Russia. Their last round of talks took place in late 2008. China has been urging the United States to return to the aid-for-denuclearization negotiations, but the Obama administration continues to resist doing so until the North first makes a hardcore demonstration of its sincerity on nuclear disarmament.
Two former special U.S. envoys for North Korea policy took to the opinion pages of the New York Times on Sunday to question the Obama administration's policy of refusing to engage directly with Pyongyang.
Former Obama administration diplomat Stephen Bosworth and former Clinton administration envoy Robert Gallucci agreed the White House is correct to be skeptical about returning to negotiations with North Korea given the country's track record of using previous rounds of talks to extract foreign aid from the United States and others only to revert back to its nuclear development at a later date.
"Whatever risks might be associated with new talks, they are less than those that come with doing nothing," the former diplomats said. "Pyongyang’s nuclear stockpile will continue to expand, the North will continue to perfect its missile delivery systems, the danger of weapons-of-mass-destruction exports will grow, and the threat to U.S. allies will increase."
They recommend the Obama administration drop its demand for North Korea to meet certain preconditions prior to a restart of negotiations. In return, Pyongyang should free an imprisoned American citizen, Kenneth Bae, halt nuclear weapons-related operations and allow international atomic inspectors back into the country, say Bosworth and Gallucci.