North Korea could be taking preliminary steps to close its nuclear test site, according to new satellite images that suggest Kim Jong Un might be making good on one of the surprising pledges he’s made over the past month.
Or, he’s making the rest of the world think he is by arranging a performance for the satellites that pass overhead.
Satellite images taken since last month’s inter-Korean summit show a steady reduction in the number of buildings around North Korea’s known nuclear test site, built under Mount Mantap in the Punggye-ri area in the north of the country.
“At the very least, this is a welcome PR move,” said Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif.
“Over the past two weeks, five or six buildings have inexplicably come down,” Lewis said, citing commercial satellite images from the San Francisco-based firm Planet Labs that have a resolution comparable to Google Maps. “Something is clearly happening there.”
As part of the extraordinary rapprochement going on, North Korea has vowed to dismantle the test site, where all six of its nuclear detonations have taken place, this month. But as with so many things about North Korea, it’s difficult to tell how much of this is wheat and how much is chaff.
Kim made the pledge during a historic summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which laid the groundwork for a meeting between Kim and President Trump, which Trump announced Thursday would take place June 12 in Singapore.
Kim said he would invite security experts and journalists to the North to observe the closure of the site, the South’s presidential Blue House said.