North Korea has no intention of giving up its entire nuclear stockpile and is instead mulling ways to “conceal” its weapons from the United States, The Washington Post reported on Saturday.
The latest U.S. intelligence assessment of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program suggests that “North Korean officials are exploring ways to deceive Washington about the number of nuclear warheads, and missiles and the types and numbers of facilities they have, believing that the United States is not aware of the full range of their activities,” the Post reported, citing four U.S. officials who have seen or been briefed on the latest intelligence.
The Post’s report corroborates a Friday exposé by NBC News that quoted U.S. intelligence officials warning of North Korea’s attempts to hide information from the U.S. about its nuclear program.
NBC’s report said North Korea has been secretly increasing production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons at clandestine sites ― despite the vague promises made by leader Kim Jong Un during his June 12 summit in Singapore with President Donald Trump to “work towards” denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
The North Koreans may have made a public show of destroying a main nuclear weapons test site before the summit and halted nuclear and missile tests, but “there’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production,” a U.S. official told NBC. “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.”
Another U.S. official cautioned: “Work is ongoing to deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles. We are watching closely.”
CNN published satellite photos last week showing infrastructure upgrades in the works at Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, a major nuclear research site in North Korea.
“Because Kim Jong Un has so far avoided making a commitment to halt research and development activities, the changes [at Yongbyon] are not a success or failure of the diplomatic process, but simply a signal that North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure remains fully in use,” Adam Mount, a director at the Federation of American Scientists, told CNN.
“That Yongbyon continues to receive scarce funds speaks to its continued value to the regime. There is little indication that North Korea has halted research, development, or production of nuclear systems even as talks continue,” Mount said.
The reports of Pyongyang’s “business-as-usual” nuclear program come despite Trump’s post-summit boast that North Korea was “no longer” a nuclear threat.
“I do trust him,” Trump told ABC News of Kim in the hours after the Singapore summit, adding that the North Korean leader will be “de-nuking the whole place. I think he’s going to start now.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has attempted to walk back Trump’s comments, telling a Senate panel last week that North Korea still remained a nuclear threat.
“I’m confident what [Trump] intended there was, ‘We did reduce the threat,’” Pompeo told the panel. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
When grilled by lawmakers about the specifics of the administration’s denuclearization plan for North Korea, Pompeo said he was “not prepared to talk about the details of the discussions that are taking place.”
“I think it would be inappropriate and, frankly, counterproductive to achieving the end state that we’re hoping to achieve,” Pompeo said.
On Jun 22, Trump extended sanctions against North Korea, stating in an executive order that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”