North Korea rapidly rebuilds rocket launch site

South Korean pro-unification activists in front of a banner showing North Korea's Mount Kumgang during a rally in Seoul yesterday. They were demanding the resumption of Mount Kumgang tours and the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the No

-South Korea military exercises as an "open challenge" to the aspiration of Pyongyang, seemingly rejecting what had been a key compromise President Donald Trump made following a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month.

Despite the indications that the Kim regime could be backpedalling, however, a senior State Department official said on Thursday that, in the Trump administration's view, denuclearization is still achievable during Mr. Trump's first term.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service director Suh Hoon gave a briefing to lawmakers on Tuesday, who said that the restoration is seen as the North's preparation to restart long-range missile test-launches in the event that nuclear diplomacy can not be reached, according to South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

A South Korean defense spokeswoman says the US and South Korea are sharing intelligence about the activity at a missile research center on the outskirts of Pyongyang and at a separate long-range rocket site.

"Given that construction, plus activity at other areas of the site, Sohae (Satellite Launching Station) appears to have returned to normal operational status", 38 North's report said.

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The official also confirmed that Washington would seek from Pyongyang "clarifications on the purposes" of rebuilding a long-range rocket launch site, adding that so far the U.S. has not reached "any specific conclusion about what's happening there".

There are rumors that a purge awaits Kim's right-hand man, Kim Yong-chol and the North's point man on U.S. issues, Kim Hyok-chol, who was only recently appointed as chief negotiator, for badly misreading U.S. President Donald Trump's commitment to denuclearization.

An analysis by two experts at CSIS said the rebuilding of the launch facility amounted to a "snapback" from the moderate dismantlement North Korea performed after Trump's first summit with Kim in Singapore previous year. But the documentary didn't mention about the lack of an agreement following the Kim-Trump summit. The official said the administration had seen suggestions that work at Sohae may have been going on even before the Hanoi summit, but that the White House has not necessarily reached the same conclusion as the organizations offering public analysis.

It called the action "an affront" to Trump's diplomatic strategy that showed North Korean pique at his refusal to lift sanctions.

Trump and Kim Jong-un met again in Vietnam on February 27 and 28 to continue nuclear talks.

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This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 19, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R) inspecting the ground jet test of a newly developed high-thrust engine at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in North Korea.

Virtual currencies, the panel said, "provide the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with more ways to evade sanctions, given that they are harder to trace, can be laundered many times and are independent from government regulation".

There are close to 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and their annual drills with tens of thousands of South Korean soldiers have always infuriated the North - with Pyongyang condemning the maneuvers as provocative rehearsals for invasion.

They noted that the activity has continued despite Trump's conciliatory words about Kim since the Hanoi summit, and a U.S. decision to cancel annual large-scale exercises with South Korea that the North has objected to.

The briefing came a week after Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended abruptly when the USA rejected a demand to provide sanctions relief in exchange for the destruction of parts of Kim's Yongbyon nuclear complex.

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